Danish scientists have made a scientific discovery with significant humanitarian and environmental potential. They have shown that it is possible to produce plants which change colour in the presence of specific compounds within the soil, opening the way for the first bomb and land-mine detection plant.
Danish Company Aresa Biodetection has been working on the plant for several years but has now developed the plant to the stage where it is a becoming commercially viable biodetection system and can change colour from green to red within 3-5 weeks of growth.
This technology is being developed to detect explosives present in landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) in soil, as well as to detect and remove heavy metals in polluted soil. The invention may significantly speed the removal of landmines and UXO in cultivatable areas to permit the subsequent use of cleared areas for agriculture to maximize socio-economic benefits. The plants will be tested and gradually introduced in landmine and UXO removal operations as the technology matures.
The landmine is one of the most insidious devices ever created by human hands. There are more than 100 million landmines buried and active in the world today. Another 100 million are stockpiled and ten million are produced annually. More than a million people have been killed or maimed by landmines since 1975. Half of all adults who stand on a mine die before they reach hospital. Children, being smaller, are more likely to die from their injuries, though there are still more than 300,000 children alive who have been severely disabled by landmines.
Clearing mines is a dangerous and very costly job. Mines can cost as little as $3 to produce yet the necessary care involved in clearing a landmine costs more than US$2000 a mine. Even then, one accident occurs for every 1800-2000 mines cleared. For every one hour spent in laying mines, over 100 hours are spent de-mining to remove the same number of mines. If we stopped laying mines NOW and continued clearing at current rates, the world would be free of mines in the year 3100. One estimate of the cost of clearing the world' landmines is US$33 Billion. Unfortunately, mines are being laid 25 times faster than they are being cleared.
Accordingly, the Danish discovery is of immense humanitarian value and rates as one of the most important scientific discoveries of recent years and is already being recognized as such. Geir Bj'rsvik, the Senior Advisor on Landmines for humanitarian aid group, Norwegian People Aid, said of the discovery, 'this is a promising development in the efforts to find a safe and cost effective solution to detect mines, and is likely to be a very welcomed addition to current methods if successfully passing further testing in areas of operation.'
The technology is based on genetic engineering of the plant Thale Cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). This plant has several advantages in developing this system.
For example, it is naturally selfpollinating and the plants developed by Aresa are conditionally fertile such that they are male-sterile enabling the growth of these Biodetection plants to be strictly controlled.
'This is a pioneering example of how we will see genetically engineered plants applied for humanitarian and environmental purposes in the future', says professor John Mundy, Department of Plant Physiology, University of Copenhagen.
'Our team has set out to develop a technology with large potential benefits all around the world.
Aresa Biodetection CEO PhD Simon 'stergaard said of their new system, 'in time we may contribute to clearing land in large scale projects much faster than is possible today, and reduce the number of people getting injured or killed by landmines.'