Bomb-Sniffing Spinach

An MIT research team is using plant-to-human communication to transform spinach leaves into explosive material-detecting sensors.


We’ve all heard of bomb-sniffing dogs and robots that are able to detect explosives, but what about enlisting a leafy green to get the job done?

It may sound strange, but MIT researchers are using spinach plants to detect explosive materials and also alert others to the explosives' presence, according to an article in SciTech Daily.

MIT engineers embedded leaves with carbon nanotubes in one of the first examples of engineering electronics into plants—a practice dubbed “plant nanobionics,” the article said. The plants are designed to detect nitroaromatics chemical compounds, compounds often used in landmines and other explosives, in groundwater. The plants' carbon nanotubes emit a fluorescent signal at the presence of the compounds. Humans are able to detect the signal using an infrared camera in a hand-held device that's similar to a smartphone.

The research team was quoted in the article saying that spinach plants are good analytical chemists in particular because their root system is constantly sampling ground water and provides a way to transport that water up to the leaves.

Spinach often came to Popeye’s rescue—perhaps it can do the same for us?

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