A group of MIT engineers has implanted customised carbon nanotubes into the leaves of living plants, with the aim to detect biological bombs.
When the plants take in water from the ground, the nanotubes detect the presence of any nitroaromatics, which are explosive molecules found in landmines and other buried munitions. The leaves emit a fluorescent signal if these are picked up.
This signal can be detected by an infrared camera up to a metre away, and researchers are now working to increase that distance.
The research needs further testing and development, but eventually it could be possible to sow plants with this detection capacity across a site suspected of containing biological landmines, and monitor their fluorescent signals to locate them.
This is not the first piece of research focusing on plants as detectors. However, it demonstrates the potential to use plants as inexpensive defence applications, and ultimately contribute to the empowerment of local populations in war-stricken areas.