Researchers at MIT have turned spinach leaves into bomb detectors, thanks to advanced technologies in plant nanobionics. To impart this amazing “superpower”, the scientists embedded nanomaterials into the delicate leaves, at the spot where photosynthesis is known to take place. This in turn enables the spinach to identify nitro-aromatic compounds commonly found in explosives, such as landmines.
What’s more, the plants are engineered to send notifications every time they detect dangerous explosives in their vicinity. The technology, the team revealed, is the first step towards functional, handheld detectors that can efficiently sniff out landmines and other kinds of bombs. It works by absorbing groundwater which, if contaminated with nitro-aromatic compounds, causes the leaves to produce a distinct, fluorescent signal. To spot the signal, the researchers use a special, infrared camera.
In the presence of explosives, the camera, which is connected to a computer, sends out email notifications alerting authorities. The novelty of the research, the team believes, lies in the fact that it has created an innovative, new way for humans and plants to communicate with one another. According to lead researcher Michael Strano, the technology could also be used to warn people of pollutants in the water as well as imminent environmental disasters, including drought. Speaking about the project, recently published in the Nature Materials journal, Strano, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT, said:
This is a novel demonstration of how we have overcome the plant/human communication barrier. Plants are very good analytical chemists. They have an extensive root network in the soil, are constantly sampling groundwater, and have a way to self-power the transport of that water up into the leaves.
Source: MIT News