E. coli bacteria become modern minesweepers
Normally, they are associated with food poisoning, but E. coli bacteria can also act as clever detectives. By means of gene manipulation, scientists have trained them to find land mines.
More than 100 million land mines are spread across the world, making up a safety hazard to people in former conflict regions. So, scientists have genetically manipulated E. coli bacteria to shed light on the hidden death traps. The land mine explosive of TNT gives off vapours that accumulate in the soil. The bacteria are equipped with genes that produce luminous proteins when in contact with TNT and its primary break-down product of DNT. By spreading balls of an organic alga material full of bacteria in land mine zones, a scan system can see light from balls located near mines.
The scientists behind the GM explosives detectives are still working on refining the method. They would like to find other types of explosives and expand the reach of the laser system by connecting it to a drone, so large areas can quickly be scanned. Moreover, scientists aim to reduce the life span of the bacteria, so they die quickly after the mission is completed to prevent that GM organisms settle permanently in nature.