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Cleaning Up TNT

September 8, 2015

Plants can help remove explosive toxins from land surrounding military sites and conflict zones.



A cleanup crew of plants. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Around military ranges and conflict zones, large areas of land are contaminated with explosive compounds, like TNT. In the journal Science, University of York professor of biotechnology Neil Bruce reports on a sustainable cleanup solution.

NEIL BRUCE (University of York):

What we want is plants on those ranges that can contain and ideally remediate those sites so they’re removing explosives from the soil so that it no longer gets into groundwater.


Many plants can remove and detoxify small amounts of TNT, but at high concentrations, TNT kills them. Bruce’s group discovered a mutation that allows a plant to survive high TNT concentrations, enabling it to clean up more waste.


By overcoming this toxicity issue of TNT, I think there’s going to be a significant advance in being able to develop plant-based systems to remove and contain explosives pollution.


I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.