Plants Could Make Excellent Security Guards

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PETA may be able to take a sigh of relief: if researchers at Colorado State University are right, plants could unseat bomb-sniffing dogs for detecting TNT.

The New York Times' Kirk Johnson explains that, backed by the Departments of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, Colorado State University researchers found a way to take advantage of a plant's extreme sensitivity to environmental changes. In this case, it's manipulating plants so they change color, going from green to white when surrounded levels by very low levels of TNT.

If the research takes off, Johnson says it could be huge, since it could turn tedious plantings in malls, airports or along city streets into a network of safety pulse-points. Plus, plants are unspookable.  The downside? Timing: plants currently require hours to go from green to white.

Then, of course, there's another problem, which Wired's Spencer Ackerman draws out of biologist June Medford, who has been developing these plants: "Medford probably thinks it's not feasible to get the plants to react to ammonium nitrate, a common chemical used for homemade bombs in Afghanistan (and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing) since, after all, it’s found in fertilizer." But then there's also what Ackerman calls the "best part": "Because the proteins can live in any plant, there’s no specific vegetation that couldn’t become a sensor. Get ready for grow houses designing terror-fighting purple kush."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.