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Spinach is modified to detect bombs underground.

Spinach is modified to detect bombs underground.

Innovation 719 0 2 Download
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In Summary

Scientists from MIT used the Nanobionic technology to absorb carbon nanotubes into the plant leaves and thereby allowing the detection of underground explosives, without risking anyone’s lives. 

Editor Posted by Ansheed

The diminutive carbon!

From the very beginning of Nanotechnology, carbon compounds had a crucial role in the field. Unlike other natural elements, carbon has a set of different characteristics that allow them to be tiny, strong and abundant. Scientists simply exploited this advantages in order to devise something useful for humanity. Carbon nanotubes are the allotropic form of the element carbon. The stability of the compound is offered by the cylindrical structure, which is more potential and widely used in nanotechnology, optics, electronics, material science etc.

The mighty association of these carbon nanotubes and spinach leaves turned themselves into a biological bomb detector. Scientist coated the nanotubes under the leave mesophylls, thus these molecules are taken in during photosynthesis. The nanotubes molecules can detect the presence of nitroaromatic compounds in a strange fashion. If any explosive chemical agents are present in the vicinity of the plant, its traces are picked up by the plant from the ground water it transports. The moment nanotube molecules mix with nitro compounds, they start to emit fluorescence.

The signaling process.

In order to alert the authorities about the presence of explosive, the team devised a much more ingenious technique. Infra-red cameras pick these fluorescence signal when a laser light is projected on the leaves. They coupled the infrared camera to a cheap raspberry Pi processor, which transmits signals to the concerned department. Even the team suggests a much more dazzling idea of incorporating a smartphone for detection. All it needs is to add an infrared board. Done, the smartphone is smarter once again. Detecting fluorescence isn’t the hard part, but preparing plants and extending their ground reach is. The fun part is that the ground module is a fully biological system, thus doesn’t require any batteries to power up or maintenance to keep it running.

Out of though advantages.

Like all other inventions, this Nanobionic spinach also waves a light for future. Once the plant is in soil, there are self-sufficient to carry their function. Unlike conventional approach, less human intervention is required in this dangerous process of bomb detection. Also, the roots would constantly sample the groundwater on its own. The roots can spread over a large area over time and extend their reach too.

The Nanobionic’s opened a new window to learn the inside working of plants. All sorts of chemical changes can be reflected out using carbon nanotubes. This integration might apparently help the scientists to treat cancer in future. Also, the natural instinct of plants, when coupled with carbon nanotubes, has many other advantages that can teach us the underground demographics and working!   


Nitroaromatic detection and infrared communication from wild-type plants using plant nanobionics. Wong MH, Giraldo JP,, Kwak SY, Koman VB, Sinclair R, Lew TT, Bisker G, Liu P, Strano MS.Nat Mater. 2016 Oct 31. doi: 10.1038/nmat4771. [PMID:27798623]