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New Grass Genes Can Suck Up Pollution From Explosives

Scientists have created a new transgenic grass species that can neutralize and eradicate a toxic compound known as RDX.

The organic compound, known as RDX, forms the base for many common military explosives. Unfortunately, the toxic compound can linger in the environment in unexploded or partly exploded munitions, which poses a major threat to those who encounter it.

Image of a scientist studying a plant specimen in a lab.

However, scientists have created what could be a promising new solution to the problem. To create the new transgenic grass species, scientists combined two genes from bacteria that learned to eat RDX and break it down into harmless components.

The scientists found that the best-performing strains removed all the RDX from a simulated soil and retained none of the toxic chemical in their leaves or stems. In addition to this, the grass will be largely beneficial as it will prevent the compound from reaching groundwater and contaminating the environment.

“The grasses could be planted on the training ranges, grow on their own and require little to no maintenance.” says senior author Stuart Strand, professor of environmental engineering at the University of Washington. He also added that it was a sustainable and affordable way to remove and destroy pollutants.

Other studies have shown the use of blow flies for detecting chemical agents, another advancement that could help to make potentially dangerous environments safer.

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