​Mutant plants may help fight toxic TNT pollution: study

Park Sae-jin Reporter() | Posted : September 14, 2015, 16:00 | Updated : September 14, 2015, 16:00
Scientists have identified a mutation in plants that allows them to break down TNT, raising the possibility of a new approach to cleaning up land contaminated by the commonly used explosive.

TNT, or 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene, has become highly prevalent in soil in the last century, particularly at manufacturing waste sites, mines and military conflict zones. TNT is a toxic and persistent environmental pollutant, and in plants, it accumulates in the roots, inhibiting growth and development.

Using a class of plant, called “Arabidopsis thaliana,” researchers at Britain's University of York found that a key plant enzyme, MDHAR6, reacts with TNT, generating reactive superoxide, which is highly damaging to cells.

However, a mutation in a gene that controls MDHAR6 allows these plants to have long roots and bushy leaves when grown in TNT-treated soil.

An analysis by the researchers revealed that there was no decrease in TNT concentration in the roots in the presence of the mutation. However, measuring electron activity revealed a one-electron reduction of TNT, an alteration that rendered the explosive less toxic to the plant.

By targeting this enzyme in relevant plant species, it may be possible to produce TNT resistant plants to revegetate and remediate explosives at contaminated sites such as military ranges and manufacturing waste sites, they said.

By Ruchi Singh
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