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University of Washington

Superfund Research Program

Phytoremediation of Pollutants Using Transgenic Plants

Project Leader: Stuart E. Strand
Grant Number: P42ES004696
Funding Period: 2006-2015
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Project Summary (2009-2015)

Exposure to toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) continues to pose a significant risk to human health. VOCs such as chloroform, carbon tetrachloride (CT) and trichloroethylene (TCE), along with benzene and other single-ring aromatics are among the most common contaminants in water and air. These compounds share a susceptibility to oxidation by the mammalian hepatic cytochrome P450 2E1. In past NIEHS-funded work at UW, project researchers have demonstrated that TCE and CT are oxidized by axenic poplar cell cultures using a pathway similar to that in mammals, and that wild-type poplar are able to take up and degrade TCE and CT. The project’s work has led to the realization that TCE and CT uptake by wild-type plants is too weak to significantly reduce their concentration in root zone water, providing motivation for the development of plants with increased degradative activity toward VOCs. Toward this end project researchers expressed mammalian cytochrome P450 2E1 (CYP2E1) in plants, achieving orders of magnitude greater oxidation of TCE in transgenic poplar. The researchers are presently engaged in testing TCE degradation by wild-type and CYP2E1 transgenic poplar at field scale in a test bed facility capable of mass balance measurements. In this project, researchers have five main objectives:

  1. compare the abilities of wild-type and existing CYP2E1 transgenic poplar lines to degrade TCE, CT, and PCE in field tests;
  2. identify genes that are up-regulated by the presence of pollutants; clone and analyze the plant genes involved in the degradation of TCE and its metabolites;
  3. determine the metabolites of TCE and benzene in CYP2E1 transgenic poplar;
  4. increase the uptake of VOCs from the air by increasing the number of open stomata on leaf surfaces;
  5. express the organophosphorus hydroxylase, paraoxonase PON1, in plants for the degradation of organophosphate neurotoxins; and determine the ecotoxicity to earthworms of root materials, leaf litter and rhizosphere soil of CYP2E1 transgenic plants exposed to VOCs.
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