Glowing bacteria detect buried landmines

April 11, 2017, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Remote detection of buried landmines is a possible application of system to remotely detect buried landmines using a bacterial sensor and a laser-based scanning system. Credit: Hebrew University

The need for safe and efficient technologies for detecting buried landmines and unexploded ordnance is a humanitarian issue of immense global proportions. About half a million people around the world are suffering from mine-inflicted injuries, and each year an additional 15 to 20 thousand more people are injured or killed by these devices. More than 100 million such devices are still buried in over 70 countries.

The major technical challenge in clearing minefields is detecting the mines. The technologies used today are not much different from those used in World War II, requiring detection teams to risk life and limb by physically entering the minefields. Clearly, there is a critical need for an efficient solution for the remote detection of buried landmines and unexploded ordnance.

Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem now report a potential answer to this need. Writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology, they present a novel, functional system combining lasers and to remotely map the location of buried landmines and unexploded ordnance.

The system is based on the observation that all landmines leak minute quantities of explosive vapors, which accumulate in the soil above them and serve as markers for their presence. The researchers molecularly engineered live bacteria that emit a fluorescent signal when they come into contact with these vapors. This signal can be recorded and quantified from a remote location.

The laser-based scanning system used to locate buried landmines. Credit: Hebrew University

The bacteria were encapsulated in small polymeric beads, which were scattered across the surface of a test field in which real antipersonnel landmines were buried. Using a laser-based scanning system, the test field was remotely scanned and the location of the buried landmines was determined. This appear to be the first demonstration of a functional standoff landmine detection system.

"Our field data show that engineered biosensors may be useful in a landmine detection system. For this to be possible, several challenges need to be overcome, such as enhancing the sensitivity and stability of the sensor bacteria, improving scanning speeds to cover large areas, and making the scanning apparatus more compact so it can be used on board a light unmanned aircraft or drone," said Prof. Shimshon Belkin, from the Hebrew University's Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, who was responsible for genetically engineering the bacterial sensors.

These luminous microbial beads demonstrate the fluorescent signal produced by the bacteria Credit: Hebrew University

Explore further: Simple test could offer cheap solution to detecting landmines

More information: Nature Biotechnology (2017). DOI: 10.1038/nbt.3791

Related Stories

Cambodia trains rats to detect landmines

June 19, 2015

Cambodia is training an elite squad of rats, imported from Africa, to sniff out landmines and other unexploded ordnance in the once war-wracked kingdom, authorities said on Friday.

Engineer creating more sensitive, safer landmine detectors

October 30, 2008

Long after a conflict, landmines remain buried underground unless someone can locate and detonate them. According to the United Nations (UN), there are more than 100 million landmines buried in 68 countries around the world. ...

Ground-breaking antilandmine radar

August 23, 2007

Researchers in The Netherlands are developing a radar system that might one day see through solid earth and could be used to clear conflict zones of landmines, safely and at low cost. Writing in Inderscience's Journal of ...

Recommended for you

Programming DNA to deliver cancer drugs

March 19, 2018

DNA has an important job—it tells your cells which proteins to make. Now, a research team at the University of Delaware has developed technology to program strands of DNA into switches that turn proteins on and off.

Modified biomaterials self-assemble on temperature cues

March 19, 2018

Biomedical engineers from Duke University have demonstrated a new approach to making self-assembled biomaterials that relies on protein modifications and temperature. The hybrid approach allows researchers to control self-assembly ...

Identifying 'designer' drugs taken by overdose patients

March 19, 2018

Drug overdoses are taking a huge toll on public health, with potent synthetic drugs posing a particular threat. Medical professionals are scrambling to meet the growing demand for emergency room treatment, but they're hampered ...

The Swiss army knife of smoke screens

March 18, 2018

Setting off smoke bombs is more than good fun on the Fourth of July. The military uses smoke grenades in dangerous situations to provide cover for people and tanks on the move. But the smoke arms race is on. Increasingly, ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (6) Apr 11, 2017

Anyone responsible for planting mines is a War Criminal.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.