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Crop Biotech Update

Engineers Develop Transgenic Grass that Neutralizes Toxic Pollution from Bombs, Explosives, and Munitions

December 1, 2016

Explosives and munitions used in military bases leave behind toxic compounds, contaminating millions of acres of U.S. military bases with an estimated cleanup bill ranging between US$16 billion and US$165 billion.

Researchers from University of Washington and University of York have engineered new transgenic grasses that can neutralize and eradicate RDX, a toxic compound that has been widely used in explosives since World War II. The engineers introduced two genes from bacteria that learned to eat RDX and break it down into harmless components in two perennial grass species: switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera).

In the first reported demonstration of genetically engineered grasses to remove contamination from the environment, the best-performing strains removed all the RDX from a simulated soil in which they were grown within less than two weeks, without retaining any of the toxic chemical in their leaves or stems.

For more details, read the news release from the University of Washington website.