Plant metabolism and remediation of the explosive and pollutant 2,4,6- trinitrotoluene (TNT)

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Biology


Explosive compounds used in munitions are highly toxic and the potential for
progressive accumulation of such compounds in soil, plants and groundwater is
a significant concern at military sites. It is estimated that in the US alone 10
million hectares of military land are contaminated with components of munitions.
The US DoD estimated that the clean-up of unexploded ordnance, discarded
military munitions and munition constituents on its active ranges would cost
between $16 billion and $165 billion. Explosives pollution is, however, a global
problem with large amounts of land and ground water contaminated by TNT and
RDX, including polluted sites in the UK dating back to the First and Second
World Wars. Explosives pollution will continue to be a pressing issue while there
is a requirement for military to train and existence of armed conflict requires
munitions to be manufactured. There is an urgent need to develop sustainable
in situ technologies to contain and treat these pollutants. Plants have a
remarkable ability to extract compounds from their environment and have
evolved complex signaling and enzyme systems to deal with a diverse range of
toxic chemicals. A fundamental understanding of the phytotoxicity of explosives
and the enzyme systems plants use to detoxify these compounds will allow the
development of robust plant systems to contain and remediate explosives
pollution effectively in situ. Considering the worldwide scale of contamination,
plants are the only low cost, sustainable solution to cleaning up these polluted
The aim of this project is to establish the mechanisms of TNT detoxification in
Arabidopsis and to, ultimately, be able to utilise this information to generate
improved robust plant species, either through genetic engineering or
conventional breeding methods, for phytoremediation of TNT contaminated soil.
TNT will be used as an exemplar xenobiotic; knowledge gained from this study
will increase our understanding on plant metabolism of other important
anthropogenic compounds, including pollutants and agrochemicals.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M011151/1 30/09/2015 29/09/2023
2280369 Studentship BB/M011151/1 30/09/2019 29/09/2023 Rhys Edward Woodfin