Saturday, December 10, 2016

Fruit Fly Gene Used to Detoxify Land

Recently, scientists at the University of York have discovered another use of a gene found in common fruit flies. This gene, found in the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, can be successfully expressed in a plant, and thus used to detoxify land contaminated with TNT. The plant specifically that this gene was tested on was Arabidopsis, a member of the cabbage family. Plants given the ability to express this gene were found to be more resistant to TNT and were better able to remove it from contaminated soil than wild-type plants without the gene.

The gene found in fruit flies, glutathione transferase, DmGSTE6, contains an enzyme that attaches to the TNT molecule itself and has the ability to make it less toxic through modification; making it less toxic to the environment in general, not just the plant. Trinitrotoluene, more commonly referred to as TNT, is an explosive that has been manufactured and used in waste sites, mines and war zones. Any remnant of TNT resists being broken down by microbes and remains in the soil for decades. It then lingers in the roots of plants, and inhibits its growth, as well as its development.

Image result for arabidopsis

Given the inability of TNT to breakdown, the most important factor of this gene could be that the transformation through the expression in Arabidopsis assists TNT into converting into a product that may be more easily broken down in the environment. There are sites dating back as far as World War II that are still affected by TNT in the area, indicating that something needs to be done and needs to be done quickly. Explosive remnants in the environment are not only a danger to plant and animal life, but a threat to human health as well.

I found this article to be extremely interesting for a multitude of reasons. I always think it is fascinating to see the scientific chain reaction of something that happened so many years ago. I also am curious to see the future of genetic engineering and just how far we will be able to use these techniques. With how far we've already come, I have no doubt that we will be able to improve and modify many problems in the environment.


  1. I wonder if this discovery could be used in the reduction of harmful pesticides and other chemicals that are used in farming techniques. Identification of other genes that would break down other compounds could be useful in sustainability.

  2. I find this to be amazing. If the plant is able to remove the TNT from the soil it would mean that the contaminated field can be decontaminated without having to spread more chemicals to do the work. If they find a way to do this in other plant species it would prove vital to having different plants surviving in different climates around the world.

  3. This is quite an interesting breakthrough. As Andrew suggests, it would be quite useful if other genes can be discovered that can address the rising problems in harmful chemical and pollution. While technology is constantly evolving to address the problems in pollution and overuse of chemicals, why not try a more natural or environmentally friendly solution such as studying genes?