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Scientists advance fight against explosives, oil spill

By Chukwuma Muanya   |   10 September 2015   |   6:11 am  
Oil spill in the Niger Delta region

Oil spill in the Niger Delta region

As delayed effects of spill compromise long-term fish survival
Scientists may have at last found the solution to the contamination of the environment by explosives and oil spills with mutant plants even as they discovered how delayed effects of petroleum pollution compromise long-term fish survival.

Analysts say the discoveries would not have come at a better time considering the damage done to the environment by the incessant suicide bombings and military interventions in the northern part of Nigeria and the regular crude oil spills and gas flaring in the Niger Delta region of South-South area of the country.

Biologists at the University of York, United States (U.S.) have taken an important step in making it possible to clean millions of hectares of land contaminated by explosives.

A team from the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) in the University’s Department of Biology has unravelled the mechanism of TNT toxicity in plants raising the possibility of a new approach to explosives remediation technology.

TNT has become an extensive global pollutant over the last 100 years and there are mounting concerns over its toxicity to biological systems.

The study, which is published in Science, also points to the potential of a new type of herbicide, which could be used sustainably in rotation with other herbicide types, to limit the emergence of herbicide resistance.

TNT has a significant impact on the diversity of soil microbial communities and the establishment of vegetation. The majority of TNT remains in the roots of plants, where it inhibits growth and development. In the U.S. alone it is estimated that some 10 million hectares of military land is contaminated with munitions constituents.

But whereas it is possible to ban toxic and polluting chemicals, the huge demand for military explosives means that TNT will continue to be used globally on a massive scale.

The researchers discovered that a key plant enzyme — MDHAR6 — reacts with TNT, generating reactive superoxide, which is highly damaging to cells.

They found that mutant plants lacking the enzyme, previously implicated in protecting plants from stress, in fact have an enhanced TNT tolerance. By targeting this enzyme in relevant plant species, it may be possible to produce TNT resistant plants to re-vegetate and remediate explosives at contaminated sites such as military ranges and manufacturing waste sites.

Also, for 25 years, methodical research by scientists has investigated the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 on Alaskan communities and ecosystems. A new study released today into the effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska shows that embryonic salmon and herring exposed to very low levels of crude oil can develop hidden heart defects that compromise their later survival, indicating that the spill may have had much greater impacts on spawning fish than previously recognized.

The herring population crashed four years after the spill in Prince William Sound and pink salmon stocks also declined, but the link to the oil spill has remained controversial.

The new findings published in the online journal Scientific Reports suggest that the delayed effects of the spill may have been important contributors to the declines.



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