Bomb-Sniffing Bionic Plants Could Search For Contamination

Bionic plants that can recognize explosives continuously could be the eventual fate of ecological checking and urban cultivating, analysts said in another study.

The spinach plants have carbon-nanotube-based nanoparticles in their leaves that emit infrared light and are delicate to the nearness of nitroaromatics, key segments of a few explosives, the researchers said.

On the off chance that these chemicals are available in groundwater, they are consumed by the roots and transported to the leaves, where they cause the infrared outflows of the supposed “nanosensor” to diminish. [In Photographs: World’s Most Contaminated Places]

A detector that is similar in complexity to a smartphone can then register this change in emissions, the researchers said. In tests with the nitroaromatic picric acid, this dip was detected within 10 minutes of the roots taking up the chemical, according to the study, published today (Oct. 31) in the journal Nature Materials.

The researchers said their “nanobionic” approach is much faster than previous genetic engineering methods that rely on monitoring changes like wilting or de-greening that can take hours or days and aren’t easy to detect electronically. The scientists also used a wild breed of spinach rather than special lab-grown varieties. The researchers said they are confident they can replicate the method with a broad range of plant species that are well-adapted to their environments.

“Genetic engineering is very powerful, but in practice there are only a handful of plants where this can be done. We can take a plant in your backyard and easily engineer it” using nanobionics instead of genetics, said study leader Michael Strano, a professor of chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

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