Glowing bacterias present a cheap solution for landmines detection
It is estimated that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 annual casualties caused by landmines and unexploded explosive devices, according to the charity Handicap International. Some 87 countries contain minefields including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Somalia, Mozambique, Cambodia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Scientists have developed a simple, cheap, and yet accurate test to find undetected landmines.
Students from the University of Edinburgh have created a custom-made bacteria that glows green when it comes into contact with chemicals leaked by buried explosives. The bacteria can be mixed into a colorless solution that, when sprayed on to the ground, forms green patches to indicate the presence of landmines.
Researchers say that the organism, which is cheap to produce, could be delivered from the air onto areas thought to contain landmines, with results available within a few hours. Te researchers claim the bacteria is not dangerous to people or animals.
They were able to create their custom-made bacteria with an emerging technique known as BioBricking. The tool enables bacteria molecules to be assembled from a range of tiny parts called BioBricks, like a very small-scale machine.
Researchers involved in the project say that although as yet they have no plans to make their product commercial, they believe it could form a cheap, accessible and easy-to-use alternative to existing landmine sensors.
Dr Alistair Elfick of the University’s School of Engineering, who co-supervised the students’ project, said: “This anti-mine sensor is a great example of how innovation in science can be of benefit to wider society. It also demonstrates how new scientific techniques can allow molecules to be designed for a specific purpose.”
If this method is to prove successful, it requires a very high level of planning and organization. It could save thousands of lives, however there are a few downsides. The inventors could be mistaken regarding the influence of the bacteria (and its potential mutations) onto our environment. Another problem, more of a social and regarding human nature, is the practicality of the invention, since many of existing mine fields serve their purpose as boundaries against enemy attacks and easier illegal traffic between countries. Because it is simple to produce and cheap, many of those boundaries could become useless, thus encouraging new conflicts and crime growth.