Physiological and transcriptional responses of Baccharis halimifolia in explosive "composition B" (RDX/TNT) in amended soil
Unexploded explosives that include royal demolition explosive (RDX) and trinitrotoluene (TNT) cause environmental concerns for surrounding ecosystems. Baccharis halimifolia is a plant species in the sunflower family that grows naturally near munitions sites on contaminated soils, indicating that it might have tolerance to explosives. B. halimifolia plants were grown on 100, 300, and 750 mg kg−1 of soil amended with composition B (Comp B) explosive, a mixture of royal demolition explosive and trinitrotoluene. These concentrations are environmentally relevant to such munitions sites. The purpose of the experiment was to mimic contaminated sites to assess the plant’s physiological response and uptake of explosives and to identify upregulated genes in response to explosives in order to better understand how this species copes with explosives. Stomatal conductance was not significantly reduced in any treatments. However, net photosynthesis, absorbed photons, and chlorophyll were significantly reduced in all treatments relative to the control plants. The dark-adapted parameter of photosynthesis was reduced only in the 750 mg kg−1 Comp B treatment. Thus, we observed partial physiological tolerance to Comp B in B. halimifolia plants. We identified and cloned 11 B. halimifolia gene candidates that were orthologous to explosive-responsive genes previously identified in Arabidopsis and poplar. Nine of those genes showed more than 90 % similarity to Conyza canadensis (horseweed), which is the closest relative with significant available genomics resources. The expression patterns of these genes were studied using quantitative real-time PCR. Three genes were transcriptionally upregulated in Comp B treatments, and the Cytb6f gene was found to be highly active in all the tested concentrations of Comp B. These three newly identified candidate genes of this explosives-tolerant plant species can be potentially exploited for uses in phytoremediation by overexpressing these genes in transgenic plants and, similarly, by using promoters or variants of promoters from these genes fused to reporter genes in transgenic plants for making phytosensors to report the localized presence of explosives in contaminated soils.