I completed my undergraduate degree with a year in industry at the University of York. It was during my second and final years that I found my interests gravitating towards biotechnology and how, as scientist, we can utilize and modify organisms to provide novel solutions to problems facing the modern world. Plant biotechnology, in particular, fascinated me with a final year module showing me the spectrum of avenues of plants biotechnology is being used for including but not limited to: increased food production, bio-fuel generation, bio-remediation and high-value chemical production. For this reason I opted for a plant-biotechnology focused project in my final year and was fortunate enough to be placed within the Bruce group. This project focused on identifying genes within the model species Arabidopsis Thaliana that were involved in responses to the insensitive munition 2,4-Dinitroanisole. I found this research fascinating and loved how it blended core concepts of plant metabolism with a real world application of pollution remediation. Thus when I saw the group were offering a PhD focusing on the metabolism of the more infamous munition 2,4,6-Trinitrotoluene (TNT) I wasted no time in applying and was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to continue my adventure in plant biotechnology.
The aromatic explosive 2,4,6-Trinitrotoluene (TNT) is a common pollutant found at military operational sites that threatens both public and environmental health. The recalcitrant nature of TNT in combination with continuous application, due to munitions testing, has resulted in military operational sites having high levels of this toxic compound within the surface-soil. Common soil-remediation tactics such as composting or incineration are limited in their ability to combat this pollution problem due to being environmentally and financially costly at the scale required, 10 million hectares of contaminated soil in the US alone. Phytoremediation, the use of plants to remediate pollutants, offers an environmentally sustainable and potentially cheaper method to remove TNT from contaminated soil. However, this requires a thorough understanding of how plants metabolize this toxic compound. I am interested in characterizing the Glutathione-detoxification pathway for TNT that has been identified within the model species Arabidopsis Thaliana. This pathway has been shown to generate a TNT-glutathione conjugate that offers the possibility of TNT mineralization. My research hopes to identify the downstream fates of this conjugate within Arabidopsis and how the glutathione metabolism can be modified to further increase the plants ability to remove greater amounts of TNT from the soil. To achieve this I will be utilizing transgenic plant lines over-expressing enzymes responsible for conjugate production in combination with techniques to investigate sub-cellular metabolomics.