Scientists have discovered that a gene found in the common fruit fly can be successfully expressed in a plant and used to detoxify land contaminated with TNT.
The breakthrough could pave the way for millions of hectares of land contaminated by munitions to be cleaned up.
The study, published in New Phytologist, shows how a gene found in the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, can be expressed in Arabidopsis, a member of the cabbage family, to improve TNT removal from contaminated soil.
When scientists engineered the plants to express the glutathione transferase (DmGSTE6) gene found in fruit flies, they found that plants expressing the gene were more resistant to TNT and were better able to remove it from contaminated soil than wild-type plants without the gene.
Second World War
The fruit fly has an enzyme which attaches itself to the TNT molecule and is able to modify it and make it less toxic, not only to the plant itself, but the environment.
Professor Neil Bruce from the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) in the University of York’s Department of Biology said: “What is important about this transformation is that it converts TNT into a product that could be more amenable to being broken down in the environment.
“At the moment there are sites going back to the Second World War which are still contaminated with TNT.
“The next stage would be to demonstrate that the TNT molecules are more biodegradable, but also to put these genes into plant species that could be used in the environment to clean up these sites.”
Dr Liz Rylott, who co-lead the research at CNAP added: “Areas of land contaminated with explosives are a threat to human health and the environment.
“We know that TNT does not readily break down in the environment, but by using specially developed plants we could be able to tackle this problem.”
The team from York has previously worked on a new transgenic grass species that can neutralize and eradicate RDX, an organic compound, which along with TNT, forms the base for many common military explosives.
Dr Bruce added: “The next stage would be to put the fly gene into the grasses, like we have done with the other RDX degrading genes.
“RDX and TNT are often combined in munitions so we need to have systems to cope with both pollutants. This is a global issue that is not going to go away.”
Scientists have identified a compound that can kill the parasites responsible for three neglected diseases: Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness.
These diseases affect millions of people in Latin America, Asia and Africa, but there are few effective treatments available.
A new study, published today in Nature, suggests that a single class of drugs could be used to treat all three. Wellcome-funded researchers at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF) have identified a chemical that can cure all of these diseases in mice. It also does not harm human cells in laboratory tests, providing a strong starting point for drug development.
Chagas, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness have different symptoms, but are all caused by parasites called ‘kinetoplastids’ – a type of single-celled organism. The parasites share similar biology and genetics, which led scientists to think it might be possible to find a single chemical that could destroy all three.
The team at GNF tested over 3 million different chemicals and identified a compound, GNF6702, which was effective against the parasites but did not damage human cells. They refined this starting compound to make it more potent before testing in it mice.
Senior study author Frantisek Supek from GNF said: “We found that these parasites harbour a common weakness. We hope to exploit this weakness to discover and develop a single class of drugs for all three diseases.”
Dr Stephen Caddick, Director of Innovation at Wellcome, said: “These three diseases lead to more than 50,000 deaths annually, yet they receive relatively little funding for research and drug development. We hope that our early stage support for this research will provide a basis for the development of new treatments that could reduce suffering for millions of people in the poorest regions of the world.”
Existing treatments for the three diseases are expensive, often have side effects and are not very effective. The fact that GNF6702 does not seem to have any adverse effects in mice suggests that it might have fewer side-effects than existing drugs, although this will need to be explored in human studies. GNF6702 is now being tested for toxicity before it can be moved in to clinical trials.
The University of York (informally York University, or simply York, abbreviated as Ebor. for post-nominals), is a research-intensive plate glass university located in the city of York, England.
Established in 1963, the campus university has expanded to more than thirty departments and centres, covering a wide range of subjects. York has been named the 7th best university under 50 years old in the world (and 1st within the UK), building a “reputation to rival Oxford and Cambridge”. Along with the LSE, York is the only university in the UK to displace the University of Oxford to second place in league tables, second only to University of Cambridge. The university also places among the top 10 in the country, top 20 universities in Europe, and ranked 96th in the world, according to the 2011 QS World University Rankings. York is among the United Kingdom’s most selective universities, having one of the highest entry requirements in the country for undergraduate studies, being described as a “genuinely world class” institution.
In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, York was also named as the 8th best research institution in the United Kingdom, the Sunday Times university of the year in 2003 and Times Higher Education university of the year in 2010. In 2012, York was invited to join the Russell Group in recognition of the institution’s world-leading research and outstanding teaching.
The University attracts a student body with a wide range of backgrounds (with over 41,000 part-time and full-time student applications in 2010/11), including a large number of international students, and a relatively high number of state school students in comparison to other well-ranked universities according to The Times Good University Guide.
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