GM plants could detect land mines

Danish scientists working for Aresa Biodetection claim to have developed a new type of plant which can change colour from green to red in the presence of specific compounds in the soil.

The plant, a genetically modified version of Thale Cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), has been created to detect unexploded mines as well as detect and ‘remove’ heavy metals in polluted soil.

‘This is a pioneering example of how we will see genetically engineered plants applied for humanitarian and environmental purposes in the future,’ said Professor John Mundy from the Department of Plant Physiology at the University of Copenhagen.

Plants normally go red, or reddish, in autumn when red pigments dominate over green ones, or as a result of stressed growth conditions. The genetically engineered plants are modified in a way that only allows the plants to go red if triggered by a specific stimulus present in the soil.

Stimuli may be heavy metals, or NO2 that evaporates when explosives are in the soil. Such stimuli trigger the production of a key enzyme in the biochemical pathway responsible for production of the group of red pigments called anthocyanins. The resulting colour change appears within 3-6 weeks dependent on the growth conditions.

Aresa Biodetection, founded in June 2001, is owned by Bracifeae, a biotech holding and development company, and DTU Innovation, a venture capital company

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