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Using Bacteria to Detect Landmines

Laser-based Scanning Enables Remote Detection

Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology, believe they have found a method of hunting for buried landmines using a combination of bacteria and lasers.

Over 100 million landmines remain buried in 70+ countries around the world, causing 15-20,000 deaths per annum. Detection remains the biggest problem, followed by the requirement for clearance teams to physically enter the minefield.

The new detection method exploits the fact that landmines emit minute quantities of explosive vapours that accumulate in the soil. Researchers developed a molecularly engineered bacterium to fluoresce when it comes into contact with these vapours. Enclosing the bacteria in polymeric beads which are scattered across the surface of the suspected minefield, a laser-based scanning system is used to locate the bacteria as they fluoresce. The ability to conduct the scanning operation remotely makes this the first time, the researchers believe, landmines have been remotely detected.

Having proven the concept, the next stages are to improve the sensitivity and stability of the bacteria, improve scanning efficiency and speed to cover larger areas and miniaturising the scanning system to facilitate its use on platforms such as UAS, for example.


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