(CN) – More than 100 million landmines and unexploded projectiles still buried in over 70 nations cause up to 20,000 injuries and deaths each year, and the technology to detect the devices has barely advanced since World War II. Glowing bacteria and lasers may be about to change that.
Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem present a potential solution that uses bacteria and lasers to remotely map the locations of landmines, which they explain in a paper published Tuesday in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
The system identifies small quantities of explosive vapors leaking from the landmines, which function as markers. To find these markers, the authors used molecularly engineered live bacteria that produce fluorescent signals – they glow – when they come into contact with these vapors. These signals can then be recorded and quantified.
To test the system, the team encapsulated the bacteria in small polymeric beads, which were scattered across the surface of a field in which landmines were buried. They then used a laser-based scanning system to remotely scan the field, allowing them to determine the location of the devices.
Co-author Shimshon Belkin, a professor at the Hebrew University, said the system could be used to detect landmines after resolving some of current limitations.
“For this to be possible, several challenges need to be overcome, such as enhancing the sensitivity and stability of the sensor bacteria, improving scanning speeds to cover large areas, and making the scanning apparatus more compact so it can be used on board a light unmanned aircraft or drone,” Belkin said.
More than half a million people in the world currently suffer from mine-inflicted injuries.