Local land mine breakthrough

By Martin Adam

Edinburgh University students have developed a bacterium which could ease the ability to detect land mines across the world’s battlefields via a financially cheap and accurate manner.

The fast emerging biological engineering technique known as BioBricking has allowed for intricate molecules of bacteria or BioBricks to be added together piece by piece to form a new synthesised strain. BioBrick is an open source technology developed by the BioBricks Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by engineers and scientists from MIT, Harvard, and UCSF.

What is unique about the researchers’ custom made organism is that it is specifically designed to react with chemicals leaking from buried explosive devices and glow a distinguishing green hue.

Production costs are potentially minimal as the bacteria can simply be mixed into colourless solution then deposited by aircraft onto areas of terrain which are pinpointed as being of concern.  Utilising a simple to deliver technique which would very much mirror traditional crop dusting methods.

(Image courtesy of http://www.musegreen.com

In modern warfare land mines have been located using expensive hand-held detectors that utilise impulse ground penetrating technology.

A contract to deploy 210 such instruments ready for initial operations in Afghanistan cost the United States army 6.8 million dollars.  Radar also heightens the percentage of false alarms occurring and it can take considerable time to comb risk spots, resulting in the endangerment of the soldier involved.  The new bacteria which poses zero harm to animal life or human beings can show results within three hours.

It is estimated that there are 45 to 100,000000 anti personal mines laying dormant inches under foot across the globe.  They affect approximately 80 countries, maiming and sometimes killing a figure of 20,000 victims per annum. Some of the worst affected regions include Afghanistan, Cambodia, Bosnia, Croatia, Angola, Somalia, Sudan and Colombia.

Despite researchers declaring they have no current framework set out to release their discovery into the commercial market, DR Alistair Eflick of the institutions’ School of Engineering commented that,

“This anti-mine sensor is a great example of how innovation in science can be of benefit to wider society.  It also demonstrates how new scientific techniques can allow molecules to be designed for a specific purpose.”

Land mines have been cleared from 3,200 square kilometres (1,236 square miles) in 90 countries over the last decade, however almost the same area still needs to be de-mined.  The Scottish breakthrough if implemented on a large scale could make the mammoth task more manageable.