MIT scientists have engineered a spinach plant to detect landmines and bombs. Researchers embedded tiny tubes in the plants’ leaves that pick up chemicals called nitro-aromatics, which are found in explosives.
The implanted nanoparticles and carbon nanotubes soak up the nitro-aromatics through the irrigated plant and onto the leaves. Once it gets there, the signal can be read shining a laser onto the leaf: the embedded nanotubes will emit near-infrared fluorescent light. A modified smartphone can pick up the signal, too. The engineered spinach plant can detect a bomb from a mile away.
Plants are increasingly being enlisted as active players in the improvement of life in modern societies. Research is relieving animals and humans of perilous tasks such as bomb detection.