Research shows that existing and genetically engineered plants can be used to remediate RDX and TNT. 

Deposition of energetic compounds can occur during training with live munitions. These compounds may then percolate through the soils and, in some cases, migrate to contaminate groundwater and potentially drinking water in communities near the ranges. Recent research has demonstrated that enzymes in certain plants found on military installations can actually break down toxic energetic compounds such as TNT and RDX.

Dr. Schnoor and his team advanced the understanding of how existing, naturally occurring native plants, through the process of phytoremediation, can degrade and contain energetic compounds such as RDX that contaminate subsurface soils on ranges. The fundamental molecular biology conducted by these researchers has vastly improved scientific understanding of the mechanisms that degrade these energetic compounds.

To address the challenge posed by TNT, an energetic compound that is toxic to many plants, Dr. Bruce and his team succeeded in creating transgenic grasses with unique abilities both to detoxify TNT and degrade RDX. “This work is a huge leap forward in developing grasses with specific abilities for use on training ranges,” said Dr. Jeffrey Marqusee, SERDP and ESTCP Director. Using genetic engineering techniques in greenhouse settings to develop the transgenic grasses, the researchers modified grasses that naturally grow on DoD ranges, so as to avoid introducing invasive plant species.

“The findings from these two projects provide the insight and technology to apply a radically new approach for long-term range sustainability,” said Dr. Marqusee. “We can now envision a range in the future which, through its own biology, prevents migration of these contaminants and self-remediates.”

For this work, Dr. Schnoor, Dr. Bruce, and Dr. Strand received Project-of-the-Year awards at the annual Partners in Environmental Technology Technical Symposium & Workshop held December 1-3, 2009, in Washington, D.C.  

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