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Spinach Enzymes Neutralize Explosives

RICHLAND, Wash.--Spinach may have given Popeye brute strength, but enzymes found inside the green leaves soon may be used to neutralize dangerous explosives.

Researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have discovered that nitroreductase enzymes found in spinach and other natural compounds can eat, digest and transform explosives such as TNT. This emerging biotechnology is called the Environmentally Benign Digestion Process (EBDP). It reduces dangerous explosives to low toxicity byproducts that can be used by industry or reduced further to harmless products such as carbon dioxide and water.

EBDP has been tested in the laboratory and soon will move to field-testing. The research project is in its first year and will receive a total of about $1 million over three years from the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and companies involved with demilitarization.

This digestion process addresses a dire need of the U.S. military to eliminate, in a cost effective and secure manner, its nearly 500,000 tons of explosives stockpiled around the country.

"The primary risk of storing explosives at any site is explosions because they create panic, can cause injury and are a trigger to releasing biological and chemical agents stored nearby," said Dr. Manish M. Shah, the project's principal investigator.

"The challenge is to have a process that is safe, easy to use, environmentally friendly and preferably mobile," Shah said. "EBDP destroys explosives in a very benign manner."

Enzymes, proteins made of amino acids, are an integral part of a human's digestion within the stomach. But they also are a booming business. The enzyme industry is a $1.3 billion market that is growing 10 to 15 percent each year. Enzymes are used by the detergent industry as supercleaners, by the beverage industry to make glucose and by the textile industry to stonewash denim. Until now, enzymes have not been used to neutralize dan
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Contact: Staci West
staci.west@pnl.gov
(509) 372-6313
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
4-Jun-1998


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