Battles have a huge environmental impact. However, this kind of damage to nature is usually not even discussed, because human suffering and political strategies are objectively more important. Now scientists the University of York reached a breakthrough paving the way for cleaning of millions of hectares of land contaminated by munitions.
The key of this new method was actually found in fruit flies – some of their genes can be successfully transferred into some plants, which later clean the soil from TNT. This plant is Arabidopsis, a member of the cabbage family, and it has already been proven that it can express the glutathione transferase (DmGSTE6) gene from the fruit fly, which helps them removing TNT more efficiently. The secret is that fruit flies have this enzyme, which attaches itself to TNT molecule, making it less toxic.
The result – TNT contaminating the environment can be broken down easier and quicker. This is very important, because there are still many fields, which are contaminated with TNT since the Second World War. Now that scientists proved the concept, they will have to move to another step of the research, which is to show that TNT, modified by the enzyme from fruit flies can be broken down easier. Scientists will have to start performing actual experiments, moving to a bigger and bigger scale, until they can start cleaning larger areas, former battle fields.
Dr Liz Rylott, co-leader of the research, said: “Areas of land contaminated with explosives are a threat to human health and the environment. We know that TNT does not readily break down in the environment, but by using specially developed plants we could be able to tackle this problem”. Scientists already showed that they can modify grass to remove RDX from the soil. Since both RDX and TNT are the biggest pollutants found in munitions, scientists soon will be able to effectively clean environment from leftovers of war.
Western world is generally peaceful. However, many areas are still polluted from military activity or historical battles. This discovery may help creating cleaner environment for future generations.