Sunday, March 1, 2015

Alternative Cleanup Solutions

So much of environmental activism is concerned with preventing pollution and contamination because once it occurs, it is extremely difficult to deal with. Radioactive contamination, for example, renders land unusable for decades, and pollution caused by oil spills can be very time consuming and expensive to clean up. Soil contamination, therefore, is not walk in the park. Scientists, however, are looking into new ways to help combat this problem. They’ve been working on genetically engineered tobacco plants, “that can detoxify soil contaminated with the military explosive trinitrotoluene (TNT)” (National Geographic). TNT and its waste products can be extremely hazardous to people, animals and the environment. As it is, the only way to decontaminate polluted soul is to incinerate it, but “the process is costly and generates unusable ash and possibly toxic fumes” (National Geographic). 

The development of genetically modified tobacco, however, may help solve that problem. Daily Science writes that in a new study, “researchers inserted a gene for TNT-transforming bacterial enzyme into a tobacco plant. Then they tested the pant’s effect on TNT-contaminated soil in comparison to regular tobacco plants grown in the same soil for several weeks” (Daily Science). They found, eventually, that the modified plants significantly reduced the toxicity of the contaminated soil. 

Despite these positive findings, it may be some time before they can be used. Issues with proper research funding and a public consensus against genetically modified plants stand in the way of this solution. Given the plant's success so far, this may eventually change, but only time will tell. In the meantime, the wisest course of action is to continue funding scientific research that looks into solving the huge problem that pollution has become.

Tobacco image:

Author: Hanna Bernhard, 2015

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