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Biodegradation of explosives by transgenic plants expressing pentaerythritol tetranitrate reductase


Plants offer many advantages over bacteria as agents for bioremediation; however, they typically lack the degradative capabilities of specially selected bacterial strains. Transgenic plants expressing microbial degradative enzymes could combine the advantages of both systems. To investigate this possibility in the context of bioremediation of explosive residues, we generated transgenic tobacco plants expressing pentaerythritol tetranitrate reductase, an enzyme derived from an explosive-degrading bacterium that enables degradation of nitrate ester and nitroaromatic explosives. Seeds from transgenic plants were able to germinate and grow in the presence of 1 mM glycerol trinitrate (GTN) or 0.05 mM trinitrotoluene, at concentrations that inhibited germination and growth of wild-type seeds. Transgenic seedlings grown in liquid medium with 1 mM GTN showed more rapid and complete denitration of GTN than wild-type seedlings. This example suggests that transgenic plants expressing microbial degradative genes may provide a generally applicable strategy for bioremediation of organic pollutants in soil.

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Figure 1: Growth of wild-type tobacco and ONR-11 tobacco seedlings in explosives-containing media 10 days after germination.
Figure 2: Degradation of GTN by wild-type tobacco and ONR-11 tobacco seedlings.


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This work was funded by a grant from the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency.

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Correspondence to Neil C. Bruce.

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French, C., Rosser, S., Davies, G. et al. Biodegradation of explosives by transgenic plants expressing pentaerythritol tetranitrate reductase. Nat Biotechnol 17, 491–494 (1999).

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