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Tobacco plant gets a cleaner role

A team of british scientists has developed a new use for tobacco that may actually prove beneficial. It's a genetically engineered version of the crop that can clean up soil contaminated with explosives, says a report this month in Nature Biotechnology. Scientists identified a bacterial enzyme that breaks down TNT and dinitroglycerin into harmless components and then transfered the gene to tobacco plants. The new plants can grow in soil with levels of contaminants that would kill regular tobacco. Weapon factories could use the new altered crop to clean up poisons in nearby soil. The removal process using bacteria or fungus has typically been only partly successful. Methods using extraction and incineration can be dangerous and costly. It would be more efficient to grow a detoxifying crop at contaminated sites, scientists say.

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