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Plants could one day ‘eat’ explosives contamination

Explosives CartGenetically modified plants could one day help eliminate pollution caused by explosives by actually using the toxins as a food source.

Researchers at the University of York have identified bacteria that “eat” royal demolition explosive, also known as RDX. The scientists used that discovery to develop transgenic plants that can draw such pollutants out of the soil and break them down into harmless components.

The advances were made possible by researchers uncovering the structure of an unusual enzyme called XplA, which plays an important role in the plant-based decontamination process.

“The biological process for tackling the pollution caused by RDX already exists but we need to find ways of making it work faster and on the scale required,” said Gideon Grogan from the York Structural Biology Laboratory. “This research significantly improves our understanding of the structure of this enzyme and is therefore an important step towards exploiting its unusual properties.”

Added Neil Bruce, a professor with the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products, “RDX is toxic and a possible carcinogen so it is important to identify ways of stopping it polluting land and water supplies. We have already had significant success in engineering plants that can perform this task and this research will help further refine that technique.”

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