Researchers from University of Washington and University of York have developed a transgenic grass species that can neutralize toxic compounds found in bombs, explosives and ammunition.
The new discovery, described in a paper published in the Plant Biotechnology Journal, is the first reported demonstration of genetically transforming grass to promote their ability to remove contamination from the environment.
“The grasses could be planted on the training ranges, grow on their own and require little to no maintenance,” explained Stuart Strand, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of Washington and senior author of the study, in a press release. “When a toxic particle from the munitions lands in a target area, their roots would take up the RDX and degrade it before it can reach groundwater,” Strand said.
RDX is a toxic compound that forms the base for many common military explosives. These organic compounds can linger in the environment in unexploded or partially exploded munitions. RDX is currently listed as a potential carcinogen and is shown to cause seizure and organ damage at large doses.
For their new transgenic grass species, the researchers introduced two genes from RDX-eating bacteria into two perennial grass species. Unlike wild grass species, the transgenic grass was able to remove all the RDX from the soil and break it down to harmless constituents. The researchers also found no traces of RDX in the leaves and stem of the grass, suggesting that the toxin will not be re-introduced into the ground when the grass dies. Due to the utilization of the RDX as a nitrogen source, the genetically modified grass grows faster than their wild counterparts.
With their findings, the researchers hope to test out their new transgenic grass species in different conditions. The researchers believe that their new grass species are safe and will not pose any kind of threat to wild grass species.