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Spinach "transformed" in the explosives detector

Advantages ordinary spinach - not only in its nutrients, but also in the extraordinary capabilities: the plant may operate as a sensor.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have used carbon nanotubes to "donate" the spinach to detect explosives and transmit the data wirelessly directly to portable devices.

MIT engineers were able to introduce carbon nanotubes (tiny cylinders of carbon) in the spinach leaves using the technique of vascular infusion. They caused a particular nanoparticle solution on the reverse side of spinach leaves, and he went straight into the mesophyll (soft tissue sandwiched between two layers of the epidermis in leaves). Recall that it was there and photosynthesis takes place.

These are embedded in the nanotube and the leaves act as sensors capable of detecting nitroaromatic compounds in the soil water, which feed on plant roots. Along the way, explain that nitroaromatic compounds are often used in the manufacture of explosives - for example, mines and other munitions.

If the chemicals present in the water, which feed on the plants, the carbon nanotubes in the leaves begin to emit a fluorescent signal. The latter can be "caught" by the infrared camera, when a laser shines on the leaves. The camera is connected to a small computer, similar to a smartphone, which then sends a message to the user.

In the course of the experiment, scientists connected such a camera to an inexpensive RaspberryPi system (single-board computer the size of a bank card), and upon detection of connections, they received an alert. The signal can also be detected using a smartphone with a camera if the infrared filter is removed.

According to the researchers, the transition of molecules of explosive substances from plant roots to the leaves may take about ten minutes. That is just so much to spinach to "feel" that with him there is an explosive substance.

Previously, researchers MIT has offered similar ideas on the discovery of a bomb, based on carbon nanotubes and even bee venom. But plants have special advantages, the scientists believe.

"Plants are well analyzed chemicals. They have an extensive root network in the soil, they also constantly use soil waters, and they have their own way of transporting water from the roots to the leaves right ", - said study lead author Michael Strano (Michael Strano).

So far, the system allows scientists to read the signal from plants at a distance of about one meter, but further work will help increase the distance several times.

"Plants can be used to monitor groundwater for buried ordnance or waste containing hazardous compounds," - said the scientist.

To check the system already has an interesting proposal: to plant the seeds of spinach in the territory, which is suspected to contain anti-personnel mines. Biological bomb detectors could then detect explosives.

According to Strano, plants are incredibly responsive to the environment.

"They know that there will be a drought, long before people know about it. They also are able to detect small changes in the properties of the soil and water. If we use these chemical signaling pathways, we can get a huge amount of information ", - he said.

The study is published in the scientific journal Nature Materials.

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