Sunday, February 01, 2004

Plants Detecting Land Mines (yes really!) -  

One of the relics of conflicts long stopped are land mines. Even long after the fighting has stopped some places are unlivable because cleaning up land mines is slow, dangerous and expensive. Researchers at the Danish company Aresa have have devised a new, and potentially inexpensive way of accomplishing this difficult task. The new method hinges on the observation that landmines give off nitrogen dioxide. Nitrogen dioxde is converted to molecular nitrogen in the roots of some plants. The difficulty is that this conversion usually leaves no visible change in the plant. The Aresa researchers, then, took a naturally existing form of thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) and genetically engineered it so that the biochemical machinery which causes the leaves to turn red (typically happening in the fall) would instead happen when the roots are exposed to nitrogen dioxide. The idea is that fields could be seeded with Arabidopsis thaliana and then left. Returning in several months, land mine disposal technicians could then go right to the areas where red Arabidopsis had grown and remove the land mines.

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