Science

MIT Is Growing Bomb-Sniffing Spinach Plants

The Department of Homeland Security is about to get a green thumb.
MIT Is Growing Bomb-Sniffing Spinach Plants
Image credit: Tania Ciolko / EyeEm

Popeye always said spinach could help protect us from evil-doers such as Bluto, but this is taking things up a few notches. OK, a few thousand notches.

The journal Nature Materials reports that researchers at MIT have bio-engineered a plant that can detect explosives and then send out a warning signal.

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How? The G.I. greens are first outfitted with tiny cylinders of carbon. As the spinach absorbs air and water from its surroundings, these tubes will react to any nitroaromatics (the chemicals commonly used in explosives) and emit a fluorescent signal. That signal then gets picked up by an infrared camera and sent to a computer or phone, which then sends an email.

Yes, this badass plant will email you.

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“Plants are very good analytical chemists,” Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, said in a statement. “They have an extensive root network in the soil, are constantly sampling groundwater, and have a way to self-power the transport of that water up into the leaves.”

But are they really up for the task of bombing detection?

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Strano insists yes. “Plants are very environmentally responsive,” he said. “They know that there is going to be a drought long before we do. They can detect small changes in the properties of soil and water potential. If we tap into those chemical signaling pathways, there is a wealth of information to access.”

 

 

 

 

Edition: December 2016

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