Researchers from the University of Washington and the University of York recently published their study on genetically altered grass in the Plant Biotechnology Journal. The purpose for this study was that the compound RDX, which makes up many military explosives, has been polluting military bases at a dangerous level. It has been listed as a human carcinogen and this is spreading much concern as the pollutant is easily spread through the air and through groundwater as it diffuses into the soil around the bases. The projected cost for a cleanup of this compound would be anywhere inbetween $16 million and $165 million dollars. However, researchers have isolated 2 genes from a bacteria that consumes RDX and have inserted them into species of grass (Switchgrass and Creeping bentgrass). The resulting grass has the ability to remove the harmful compound from the air and soil, and then degrade it so that its broken down components are not toxic. In the best test case, the grass was able to remove the toxic substance from the soil in less than two weeks time, leaving behind no traces in the air, soil, or in the plant itself. The grass is especially productive when it comes to removing RDX before it reaches groundwater, because then the toxic substance is more easily spreadable with the aid of the water cycle.
Grass is a great plant to use for removing the toxin because it is very affordable and environmentally friendly. It grows quickly and requires little care and looking after. Furthermore, the RDX is partly beneficial to the grass because the grass uses it as a nitrogen source, promoting faster growth. Although the researchers detailed the difficulty that they had when it came to implanting the bacteria genes into the grass, this method is certainly beneficial for a multitude of reasons. Since it is cheap, sustainable, and fast acting, if scientists could figure out an easier way of producing the grasses, this method could be extremely useful. If used more, these grasses can be planted in various places and create healthier air and soil for us to use, lessening the risk of cancers and other illnesses. This idea is especially interesting because in further research, if scientists could figure out other genes from bacteria or animals that they can insert in plants, it is possible that they could select for other toxins. This method would be a lot less harmful and more cost effective than current methods of getting rid of pollution.