Using Spinach to Detect Explosives

Ruben Baart
January 8th 2017

Researchers at MIT are taking superfoods to the next level. By embedding spinach leaves with carbon nanotubes, a team of MIT engineers has converted spinach plants into biological bomb detectors. The introduction of “plant nanobionics”, a method to augment plants with nanomaterials, basically give them superpowers.

According to the press release, the researchers “used nanoparticles to enhance plants’ photosynthesis ability and to turn them into sensors for nitric oxide, a pollutant produced by combustion”. Meaning that if the plant is close to any water containing explosive compounds, its sensors are activated. The plant then sends out a fluorescent signal that can be detected by a nearby infrared camera, which wirelessly relays the information to a handheld device, or alert someone by email.

The researchers say this technique can be used with almost any living plant, and these plants can virtually detect anything. Imagine a nanobionic eggplant able to detect Sarin gas or other pollutants. “The vision is to use plants as a platform for technology” says team leader Michael Strano, who published the research on Nature Materials. Who knows, in a few years we will be charging our smartphones on trees.

Source: MIT. Image: Scimex

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