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York scientist makes innovation shortlist

Posted on 13 February 2014

A team led by a University of York scientist, which has developed new plants which can be used to clean up land polluted with explosives, is a finalist in the BBSRC Innovator of the Year 2014 competition.

Professor Neil Bruce, of the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) in the University’s Department of Biology, and his team are shortlisted in the Social Innovator of the Year category.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council competition recognises and rewards individuals and small teams who have harnessed the potential of their excellent research.  Awards are made in three categories: commercial, social and most promising, and are designed to recognise the full breadth of impacts that BBSRC-funded research can have.

By studying the ways in which plants deal with toxic chemicals, Professor Bruce and his team, who included researchers from the University of Washington and the US Army, engineered new plants that are able to remove toxic explosive pollutants from contaminated soil and water. 

Explosives pollution is a global problem with large amounts of land contaminated, including polluted sites dating back to the First and Second World Wars. 

Professor Bruce said: "I am thrilled to have been selected as a finalist for this award.  Our work represents a cost-effective, environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing alternative to clean up explosives on contaminated land."

The research studies carried out by Professor Bruce and his colleagues also demonstrates that phytoremediation - cleaning up polluted environments with plants - can potentially be applied to many different types of organic pollutants. This work provides a positive example of the societal benefits of genetic modification in non-food crops. 

The awards will be presented at a high-profile event in London on 20 March 2014 in front of an invited audience of leading figures from the worlds of investment, industry, government, charity and academia.  Winners in each category will receive a £15,000 award, with a further £15,000 for the overall winner.

Notes to editors:

  • The Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) is an award winning strategic research centre based in the Department of Biology at the University of York. CNAP is dedicated to realising the potential of plants as renewable, low-cost factories that produce high-value chemicals and biofuels. Laboratory based discoveries are translated into practice in partnership with industry.  For more information about CNAP visit
  • BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £467M (2012-2013), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.  For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: