£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 14 November 2022 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more
Plants v Explosives
Skip main navigation

Plants v Explosives

Pollution from explosives can pose a risk to both the environment and public health. Plants could offer a way of dealing with it.
14.4
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.
50.8
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.

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.

This article is from the free online

Biochemistry: the Molecules of Life

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education