Shining A Light: Glowing Bacteria Helps Find Hidden Landmines
This article was first published by The Times of Israel and was re-posted with permission.
Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem say they may have found a way to remotely detect unexploded landmines by using a combination of lasers and molecularly engineered bacteria that glow in proximity to the explosives.
Buried landmines, which injure or kill 15,000-20,000 people each year, emit tiny quantities of explosive vapors which accumulate in the soil above them. This observation prompted the Hebrew University researchers, led by Prof. Shimshon Belkin of the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, to use bacteria that emit a fluorescent signal when they come into contact with these vapors to detect the mines.
They enclosed the bacteria in small polymeric beads, which were then 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 researchers were able to determine the location of the buried explosives.
About half a million people around the world suffer from mine-inflicted injuries and 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 who risk life and limb by physically entering the minefields.
Accidents involving landmines occur in Israel once every few years and landmines laid in the 1950s and 1960s contaminate the Arava Valley, areas along the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War. The landmines have largely been demarcated by a network of fences and warning signs.
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Photos: Hebrew Universtiy