Feeds

Latest boffinry: Feeding TNT to sheep

There's a good reason, honest

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

Stateside boffins are diligently getting a small number of laboratory sheep to eat as much TNT as possible.

One should point out straight away that this will not - or ought not to, anyway - involve any sheep then exploding in a sequence of fearful fleecy detonations and spattering the landscape with woolly fluff and raw mutton. This is not some kind of crazed attempt to create instant-self-barbecuing lamb or similar. In fact it seems that the guts of a sheep, capable of digesting various things which would prove fatal to lesser species such as cows or humans, can break down trinitrotoluenes - TNT - into harmless residues without any ill effects on the animal.

Probably the world's top expert on feeding sheep explosives is toxicology prof A Morrie Craig. He originally discovered the amazing powers of the ovine gut while struggling with the scourge of tansy ragwort, a poisonous plant which is fatal to cattle or horses. Sheep, however, can chow down on the deadly weed without trouble, protected by a certain anaerobic bacterium living in their digestive tract.

Meanwhile the US military has on its books vast tracts of land, which in many cases it has carelessly polluted with TNT - as for instance by firing artillery shells into the ground, or manufacturing them nearby or what have you. The explosive residue won't catch fire or blow up in the concentrations found, and isn't a health risk simply by being present, but it is seriously toxic to humans if it gets into food or water supplies. Thus the land can't be sold off and re-used for farming etc until the TNT can be got rid of somehow.

Craig's plan is a simple one: plant the ground with grasses chosen to draw out the explosives, and unleash the ovine chemical cleanup crew to guzzle the TNT-laden greenery as it sprouts. After three years or so, he estimates, the concentration in the soil should be down to such levels that the ground would then be safe for normal use.

In the meantime you could still eat the TNT-fed sheep, as the toxic explosive can't enter their system: it is broken down on entry.

We learn from Popular Science the other day that Craig "is testing the grazers on soil from a military base", with a view to putting his ideas into action. Interested readers may also care to cast an eye over the prof's seminal 2004 paper Anaerobic transformation of 2,4,6-TNT by bovine ruminal microbes.

Obviously the idea of TNT-fed sheep has a certain quiet beauty of its own, even without the benefit of land salvaged and toxins cleansed. We might all wish Professor Craig well with his plans and hope they come to immediate fruition.

We can't help noting though that Craig has been studying the practical application of the bomb-busting ovine belly microbes since the 1980s, and trying to apply them to TNT cleanup since at least 2002. It may be a while yet before sheep are routinely making land where cattle or horses may safely graze. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
Human spacecraft dodge COMET CHUNKS pelting off Mars
Odyssey orbiter yet to report, though - comet's trailing trash poses new threat
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.