The explosive 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT) is a major worldwide military pollutant. The presence of this toxic and highly persistent pollutant, particularly at military sites and former manufacturing facilities, presents various health and environmental concerns. Due to the chemically resistant structure of TNT, it has proven to be highly recalcitrant to biodegradation in the environment. Here, we demonstrate the importance of two glutathione transferases (GSTs), GST-U24 and GST-U25, from Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) that are specifically up-regulated in response to TNT exposure. To assess the role of GST-U24 and GST-U25, we purified and characterized recombinant forms of both enzymes and demonstrated the formation of three TNT glutathionyl products. Importantly, GST-U25 catalyzed the denitration of TNT to form 2-glutathionyl-4,6-dinitrotoluene, a product that is likely to be more amenable to subsequent biodegradation in the environment. Despite the presence of this biochemical detoxification pathway in plants, physiological concentrations of GST-U24 and GST-U25 result in only a limited innate ability to cope with the levels of TNT found at contaminated sites. We demonstrate that Arabidopsis plants overexpressing GST-U24 and GST-U25 exhibit significantly enhanced ability to withstand and detoxify TNT, properties that could be applied for in planta detoxification of TNT in the field. The overexpressing lines removed significantly more TNT from soil and exhibited a corresponding reduction in glutathione levels when compared with wild-type plants. However, in the absence of TNT, overexpression of these GSTs reduces root and shoot biomass, and although glutathione levels are not affected, this effect has implications for xenobiotic detoxification.
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