Scientists plant nanobionic spinach to root out buried explosives


We don’t need bomb-sniffing dogs now to detect the explosives, Spinach plant is enough to do the job. Scientist at MIT have designed spinach plants which are capable of detecting buried landmines and other hidden explosives.

They were able to do this by embedding the leaves of the spinach with carbon nanotubes transforming them into sensors that let them sense when an explosive is nearby and even alert someone by email.

For the research, which was published in the journal Nature Materials, MIT researchers put sensors into the part of the spinach leaf where photosynthesis happens. These sensors can detect a chemical that is often in landmines and other explosives: nitroaromatic compounds.

“The goal of plant nanobionics is to introduce nanoparticles into the plant to give it non-native functions,” Michael Strano, a professor of chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told MIT News.

The plant’s roots and vascular system absorb the water laced with nitroaromatics. Than from the roots the chemical travel to the leaves in about 10 minutes, where they activate the plant’s sensors. These sensors emit a fluorescent signal that can be seen from an infrared camera nearby. This camera is hooked to a tiny computer, so it can send an email alerting someone about this change.

Researchers say their basic nanobionics technique could be used in almost any plant, and the signals could be detected by a smartphone outfitted with the right cameras.

“It is almost like having the plant talk to us about the environment they are in. In the case of precision agriculture, having such information can directly affect yield and margins.” explained co-author Min Hao Wong, an MIT graduate student

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