Bomb Detecting Plants To Fight Terrorism

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Bomb-detecting plants? Colorado State University professor June Medford and her team say they have identified a plant protein that can make any plant do just that. "

"What we've discovered is the ability to develop plants to serve as highly specific detectors for explosives, environmental pollutants, and other substances of interest."

The study capitalized on plants' natural sensory system. The protein activates a switch that drains the chlorophyll - or pigment- from the plant, turning it white when it's exposed to bomb materials and common pollutants. (Colorado State University)

The research, funded mostly by the Department of Defense and Homeland Security, isn't perfect yet. A plant biology professor at the University of California told the New York Times...

"What you want is something that is extreme on-and-off and reliable, and I don't think they're there yet..."

Fox News says the response time isn't lightning fast yet, but the wait will be worth it.

"...the current technology has a response time of hours but Medford hopes to reduce this down to a few minutes over the next couple of years. ... The redesigned plants are also highly sensitive, 100 times more sensitive than a bomb-sniffing dog."

But even with high sensitivity levels the plants won't be foolproof. Wired explains...

"One big problem: ... it's not feasible to get the plants to react to ammonium nitrate, a common chemical used for homemade bombs in Afghanistan (and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing) since, after all, it's found in fertilizer."

Despite this setback, opportunities to utilize the bomb-detecting plants are everywhere.

"Military strategists are brainstorming applications aimed at protecting soldiers from roadside bombs... Police could use the plants to enforce drug prohibitions... The plants also could be deployed to sniff for greenhouse gases and other industrial pollution."
Denver Post

Medford says she'd eventually like to see the plants used not just in airports and war zones but shopping malls, sports arenas, schools and even in homes.

Medford's Research Article

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