How tobacco plants could sniff out potential terrorists

It seems like even the luscious green flora at shopping malls and airports will be keeping a tab on terrorists in the future – thanks to some genetic meddling by US researchers.

These plants could sniff out potential terrorists by changing its colour if a harmful pollutant or explosive chemical is detected nearby.

Biologists at the Colorado State University have engineered tobacco plants and mouse-ear cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) that they turn yellow when they detect even trace amounts of explosives in the air, reports the New Scientist.

June Medford and her team used a computer program to redesign receptors in plant cells to recognize a specific pollutant or explosive and respond by losing its green hue.

Right now, the bomb-sniffing plants, which are 100 times more sensitive than a dog’s nostrils, change colour within hours.

Over the next few years, the team plans to speed up the detection time to a matter of minutes.

“The way that I see it there are two really neat applications,” said Medford.

“The first is finding environmental pollutants and the second is finding inexpensive ways to do security. For ordinary people this could be quite empowering simply to know whether their air and water is clean,” she added.

The study is published online in PLoS One. (ANI)

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