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Mutant TNT-resistant blooms could help clean up warzones

Updated: 2015-09-07
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Read more on: TNT   Bomb-proof plants   MDHAR6  

Mutant: Researchers discovered that a key plant enzyme - MDHAR6 - reacts with TNT, generating reactive superoxide, which is highly damaging to cells. But mutant plants lacking the enzyme, previously implicated in protecting plants from stress, have an enhanced TNT tolerance (stock image shown)
   
Mutants plants could clean up war zones and military training grounds contaminated by explosives, a new study has revealed. 
 
Trinitrotoluene - or TNT - found in explosives is toxic to plants and significantly impacts on soil quality and the establishment of vegetation. 
 
Deposits of TNT clog up the roots of plants, inhibiting growth and development. 
  

Volatile: Trinitrotoluene - or TNT - found in explosives is toxic to plants and significantly impacts on soil quality and the establishment of vegetation
 
But while other toxic and polluting chemicals can be banned, TNT plays a vital part in a nation's defence. 
 
Now University of York biologists have taken an important step in making it possible to clean millions of hectares of land contaminated by explosives.

The team from the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) in the University's Department of Biology has unravelled the mechanism of TNT toxicity in plants, raising the possibility of a new approach to what is termed as 'explosives remediation technology'. 
 
The study also points to the potential of a new type of herbicide which could be used in rotation with other existing options to limit the emergence of herbicide resistance.

Researchers discovered that a key plant enzyme - MDHAR6 - reacts with TNT, generating reactive superoxide, which is highly damaging to cells. 
 
But mutant plants lacking the enzyme, which is thought to protect plants from stress, have an enhanced TNT tolerance.
 
By targeting this enzyme in relevant plant species, it may be possible to produce TNT-resistant plants to revegetate and remove explosives at contaminated sites such as military ranges and manufacturing waste sites. 
 
Professor Neil Bruce said: 'There is a lot of interest in natural mechanisms for the removal of toxic chemicals from the biosphere and because of the scale of explosives pollution, particularly on military training ranges, the remediation of polluted land and water as a result of military activity is a pressing global issue.' 
 
Dr Liz Rylott added: 'Only by eliminating the acute [plant] toxicity of TNT can plant-based systems be successfully used to clean-up contaminated sites.. 
 
'Our work is an important step on that journey.' 
 
Since MDHAR6 is plant specific, compounds that react with the enzyme in the same way as TNT, yet are readily degraded in the environment, could also be screened for herbicide potential. 
 
Professor Bruce said: 'This is an important additional finding as it is an increasing concern that although herbicide resistance has been increasing steadily since the 1970s, no new herbicide mode of action has been commercialised since the 1980s.' 
 
The study was published in published in Science.

SOURCE:
dailymail.co.uk
  
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