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Researchers Use Glowing Bacteria to Detect Active Landmines

Apr 12, 2017 01:11 PM EDT
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Detection teams can now safely determine the location of buried landmines from a remote location
(Photo : Salah Malkawi/Getty Images)

A new study from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem showed that glowing bacteria, combined with a laser-based scanning system, can be utilized to remotely detect buried landmines.

The study, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, showed that fluorescent bacteria can be molecularly engineered to react when they come in contact with explosive vapors leaking from buried land mines and unexploded ordnance.

"Our field data show that engineered biosensors may be useful in a landmine detection system," said Prof. Shimshon Belkin, from the Hebrew University's Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, in a press release. "For this to be possible, several challenges need to be overcome, such as enhancing the sensitivity and stability of the sensor bacteria, improving scanning speeds to cover large areas, and making the scanning apparatus more compact so it can be used on board a light unmanned aircraft or drone."

For the study, the researchers first molecularly engineered live bacteria that emit fluorescent signal when it comes in contact with leaked explosive vapors. This signal can then be recorded and quantified from a remote location.

To test out their new land mine-detection method, the researchers encased the engineered bacteria in small polymeric beads. The beads were scattered across the surface of a test field that's teeming with real anti-personnel landmines. The test field was remotely scanned using a laser-based scanning system. The new detection system successfully determined the location of the landmines.

According to the study, about 100 million landmines and unexploded ordnance are still buried in over 70 countries. Globally, about 500,000 people are suffering from mine-inflicted injuries, with the number of casualties and injuries increasing between 15,000 and 20,000 every year.

Using the new functional standoff landmine detection system, detection teams can now safely determine the location of buried landmines from a remote location, without the risk of accidentally setting off one, resulting to injuries or death.

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