CSIRO Finds Enzyme to Remove Atrazine from Runoff

Farmers around the world are expected to benefit from the successful trial of an enzyme that breaks down the herbicide, atrazine, in run-off water, according to a Feb. 17 press release from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

"When we added the enzyme to a holding dam filled with run-off contaminated with atrazine, more than 90 percent of it was removed in less than four hours," said Collin Scott, Ph.D., of the CSIRO Entomology department.

"Atrazine is a widely used and extremely useful herbicide but, depending on its use, can lead to residues that persist in water for some time after application. Undesirable residues in water have led to restrictions on the use of atrazine in the EU and USA.

"The enzyme we have developed will reduce the potential for off-farm water contamination by atrazine and this should help provide continued access to it for farmers," he said.

The successful trial was held in the Burdekin sugar growing region near Ayr in Queensland and the results are very promising for reducing contamination in run-off that reaches the Great Barrier Reef.

Collaborators in the trial were the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, James Cook University, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

"These initial field test results are very encouraging and our next steps will be to apply the enzyme in standard operating situations to ensure there are no impediments, from a farmer perspective, to its easy and effective use," said the DPI&F's Rob Milla, who organized access to the trial farms and assisted in sample collection.

CSIRO Entomology's General Manager, Business Development and Commercialization, Cameron Begley, said the enzyme also works well against a range of other triazine herbicides and, once in commercial production, would benefit farmers and water consumers wherever triazines are used.

The CSIRO bioremediation team is now focusing on improving the production and application of the enzyme to provide farmers and water consumers around the world with a cost-effective bioremediation product to address triazine contamination.

"To facilitate this, CSIRO is actively seeking commercial partners to collaborate with," Begley said.

CSIRO's search for the enzyme began with a search for bacteria that "fed" on atrazine. Once identified, the team isolated the enzyme that broke down the chemical into non-toxic components and developed it to make it suitable for low-cost production and delivery into a range of situations.

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