Harnessing microbial gene pools to remediate persistent organic pollutants using genetically modified plants -: A viable technology?

Elizabeth L. Rylott*, Emily J. Johnston, Neil C. Bruce

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It has been 14 years since the international community came together to legislate the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), restricting the production and use of specific chemicals that were found to be environmentally stable, often bioaccumulating, with long-term toxic effects. Efforts are continuing to remove these pollutants from the environment. While incineration and chemical treatment can be successful, these methods require the removal of tonnes of soil, at high cost, and are damaging to soil structure and microbial communities. The engineering of plants for in situ POP remediation has had highly promising results, and could be a more environmentally friendly alternative. This review discusses the characterization of POP-degrading bacterial pathways, and how the genes responsible have been harnessed using genetic modification (GM) to introduce these same abilities into plants. Recent advances in multi-gene cloning, genome editing technologies and expression in monocot species are accelerating progress with remediation-applicable species. Examples include plants developed to degrade 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT), hexahydro-1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine (RDX), trichloroethylene (TCE), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). However, the costs and timescales needed to gain regulatory approval, along with continued public opposition, are considerable. The benefits and challenges in this rapidly developing and promising field are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6519-6533
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Botany
Issue number21
Early online date17 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2015


  • Genetically modified
  • Microbial detoxification
  • Persistent organic pollutants
  • Phytoremediation
  • Transgenic plants

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