A new discovery could lay the groundwork for a safer bomb detecting technique.
Engineers based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology incorporated small carbon nanotubes into areas of spinach leaves where photosynthesis occurs, per the university’s announcement.
The plants were able to use this material in identifying chemical compounds called nitroaromatics, which is a substance found in landmines and other explosives.
A key component of this detection process involves having the plant absorb the chemical through its roots, as if the compounds were present in the groundwater where the plants grow, wrote The Verge.
It would take about 10 minutes for the nitroaromatic compounds to travel to the spinach leaves activating the sensors. The hybrids would emit a fluorescent signal that can be read by an infrared camera attached to a computer or a similar device.
An email would be sent to a user alerting them a dangerous chemical was in the area.
“Plants are very good analytical chemists,” said Michael Strano, Ph.D., the lead researcher for this experiment and professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, 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.”
Ultimately, this technique can be used on other living plants for different purposes, according to MIT’s announcement.
Strano and his team were able to program other spinach plants to detect the chemical dopamine, or botanists could harness this technology to construct a warning system that can send alerts about droughts or pollutants in the area.
The study was published in the journal Nature Materials.