|Image credit: CPI at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.|
I thought the most innovative way to detect land mines was, to date, the use of sniffing rats (light enough not to set off the explosive). But scientists in South Africa (a team set up by the University of Stellenbosch and the Danish biotechnology firm Aresa) are now turning to vegetables.
According to EcoWorldly, they have developed the "Red-Detect" bio-sensor technology in a weed that changes color from green to red when when it detects the nitrogen dioxide that leads from buried mines. The weed, Thales Cress, is too small to be seen from a safe distance, however, so the scientists are now betting on using the tobacco plant instead, which has large leaves and grows easily in most parts of the world.
Field trials are already underway in Serbia, but scientists keep researching the plant's response to drought and extreme temperatures, as well as the risk of environmental contamination coming from this genetically engineered tobacco. In East Asia, projects to clean the land from mines are currently underway in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar (at least).