These plant sentinels sniff explosives

Posted by STARR KESHET

A Colorado State University biologist has created a species of "plant sentinels" capable of detecting explosives and other environmental contaminants.


So, how do the plants sniff out dangerous substances?

Well, Professor June Medford and her team enabled a computer-designed detection trait to work in a plant by "rewiring" its natural signaling process so the plant turns from green to white when chemicals are detected in air or soil.

Such plant sentinels could eventually be used to supplement security procedures in airports and shopping malls, or for monitoring pollutants like radon in a home.

"The idea to make detector plants comes directly from nature. Plants can't run or hide from threats, so they've developed sophisticated systems to detect and respond to their environment," explained Medford.

"[As such], we've 'taught' plants how to detect things we're interested in and respond in a way anyone can see, to tell us there is something nasty around."

Meanwhile, Linda Chrisey, program officer for the Naval Biosciences and Biocentric Technology Program at the Office of Naval Research, confirmed that the plants could eventually be used to aid U.S. soldiers deployed overseas.

"Plant sentinels engineered to detect explosives may ultimately help us protect our troops from improvised explosive devices (IEDs)."