NEWS AND COMMENT: The Times tells me that there are at least 100 million landmines dotted around the world in former or current war zones. A massive hazard to citizens when the wars are over. Finding them manually is – as you realise – extremely risky which is why alternative means are welcome. Biotech company Enzymit is working on replacing mine clearance personnel with modified bacteria which glows when it detects the vapours emitted by the explosives in landmines.
The firm is working with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to genetically engineer bacteria to glow as described. Shimshon Belkin, professor of microbiology at the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Science said that “The methodology for mine clearance today is not much different to that in the Second World War.”
They genetically modified E. coli which they found was activated by the explosive’s vapours. They fused the genes from this bacteria with those that create bioluminescent proteins with the result that the merged bacteria glows blue-green in the presence of the vapours.
They’ve worked on methods to make the bacteria glow brighter and within 2 years they hope to be testing it in the field. Lapidoth, the CEO of Enyzmit said that there will clearly be military applications. Comment: I see plenty of money to be made particularly if they can get an American military contract!
One difficulty that they have foreseen is the bacteria picking up vapour from explosives not in landmines. That’s probably not a big deal unless it masks the finding of landmines.