Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the UEA (University of East Anglia) & Biochemical Society's online course, Biochemistry: the Molecules of Life. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 14 seconds So, you might not remember World War One …but the Earth does. A century of battles and military tests has left us with land permanently contaminated with water-supply-poisoning toxins. In the US alone, total contaminated sites are almost the size of England and Wales – combined. So how do we get rid of it? We could move it. Burn it or cover it. But now, there is a better way. This scientist made a plant that could solve the problem. How does it work? This bacteria destroys toxins. And this plant’s roots can suck up toxins through the soil.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds So when scientists take a tiny piece of DNA from this… and put it in here… We get a plant that removes poisons from our land And destroys them forever It could be great for the communities around these sites… And it could be great for the planet. That is one way scientists are making plants do amazing things.

Plants v Explosives

We have already seen that the combination of biochemistry and synthetic biology methods is offering novel ways to solve problems across the world. Some of these solutions are occurring in ways that is not always obvious.

For example, pollution from explosives poses a risk to both the environment and public health, so it is vitally important that cost-effective ways of dealing with it are found. In the U.S. alone it is estimated that some 10 million hectares of military land is contaminated with munitions constituents. One way to reduce this pollution could be to use plants, as highlighted in this video, which has been produced by the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council).

This research was carried out by Professor Neil Bruce at the University of York and it combined the characteristics of certain bacteria, which are able to detoxify different types of explosives, with the larger mass and higher processing ability of plants. This work has resulted in efficient pollution biodegrading plants that are capable of extracting explosive waste left in the land after war or military training. The research won runner-up position in BBSRC’s Innovator of the Year competition. You can read more about this work in this case study.

© UEA and Biochemical Society, 2018. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Biochemistry: the Molecules of Life

UEA (University of East Anglia)