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Defusing an explosive issue: engineering GM plants to remove explosives and other pollutants from the biosphere

Wednesday 7 October 2015, 1.00PM

Speaker(s): Professor Neil Bruce, CNAP Chair in Biotechnology, University of York


There is an increasing pressure to reclaim land for redevelopment and agricultural use that has been contaminated by persistent organic and elemental pollutants. Organic pollutants are mostly anthropogenic that have historically arisen from old traditional industrial processes but pollution still continues to arise from sources such as accidental spillages from chemical industries, agriculture and military activities. Numerous organic pollutants, a typical example being the explosive TNT, are highly recalcitrant to degradation and can persist in the environment for many years. Toxic inorganic pollutants occur as natural elements in the earth and activities such as mining promote their release into the environment. The lack of affordable and effective cleanup technologies that can be used over large areas of land requires the development of novel low cost sustainable processes. Recent interest has focused on the use of plants, as they have a remarkable ability to extract compounds from soil, water and air, while their penetrative root systems enable them to interrogate a diverse range of environments.

Plants are exposed on a daily basis to toxic compounds and their survival from exposure to these harmful substances depends on inducible detoxification systems. In this talk, I will give examples on how a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of plant detoxification and the use of genetic engineering can lead to robust plant systems suitable for environmental cleanup. I will also discuss how we intend to deploy these GM plants for remediation of explosives contaminated land on US military sites.

Host: Bob White

Location: P/X/001

Admission: Open