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Centre for Novel Agricultural Products

Clean Technology / Phytoremediation

Clean Technology

Microorganisms offer the greatest enzymatic diversity in the biosphere due to their early evolutionary origin, a population size of more than 1030and their ability for rapid evolution. It is considered that less than 1% of bacteria have been characterised; emerging methods are now offering the possibility to examine microorganisms that were thought to be non-culturable in the laboratory and whole new areas of enzymology are now being opened up with microorganisms being isolated from extreme environments. We are engaged in the discovery and engineering of enzymes mediating biochemical pathways as biocatalysts for synthetic chemistry, as recognition components for biosensors and for degrading toxic pollutants.

The industrial use of enzymes as catalysts has significantly increased over the last twenty years, due to reaction selectivity and the demand for ‘greener chemistry’. CNAP works closely with industrial organisations and the Centre of Excellence for Biocatalysis, Biotransformations and Biocatalytic Manufacture (CoEBio3) at The University of Manchester to discover and characterise novel biocatalysts.

Current Clean Technology projects in CNAP fall into 3 main areas:

  1. Microbial degradation of explosives

  2. Enzyme discovery: developing a new platform technology for oxidative biocatalysis

  3. Biosensors



Phytoremediation offers an environmentally friendly means of removing pollutants, such as toxic explosive residues, from contaminated sites compared to conventional remediating methods such as the excavation of soil and burial in landfill sites or soil incineration. Plants have a remarkable ability to extract, sequester and detoxify pollutants from the soil, water and air. The potential economic benefits of using plants as a renewable resource for the treatment and containment of pollutants are impressive. However, the innate biodegradative abilities of plants are less impressive than those of adapted bacteria and fungi. While it has become apparent that conventional plants have some potential for the treatment of pollutants, it is also apparent that phytoremediation of organic pollutants is encumbered by the phytotoxicity of many of these compounds. These limitations can be overcome by using genetically engineered plants possessing bacterial genes conferring the ability for the degradation or transformation of organic compounds.

Current Phytoremediation project in CNAP:

See separate page on Engineering plants for the phytoremediation of military training ranges




Latest News

Researchers discovered how catmint evolved to intoxicate cats!

  • Neil Bruce took over as CNAP Director in January 2020
  • CNAP celebrated its 20th anniversary in December 2019!

Ian Graham interviewed on Radio 5 live and podcast

Secret to making renewable energy from wood? The digestive system of the gribble may hold the key!

2 new Networks in Industrial Biotechnology awarded! Congratulations to Ian Graham and Simon McQueen-Mason, who will each lead a phase II NIBB.

New bioeconomy initiative launch in York BioYork established.

Poppy genome decoded DNA code of the opium poppy genome determined.

Poppy (x70)

Strengthening links with India: 2 major new research projects Funding secured by CNAP PIs.

Oilseed rape


CNAP Director, Professor Neil Bruce

CNAP, Department of Biology, University of York, Wentworth Way, York YO10 5DD, UK