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Danish scientists have made a scientific discovery with significant
humanitarian and environmental potential. They have shown that it is
possible to produce plants which change colour in the presence of specific
compounds within the soil, opening the way for the first bomb and land-mine
detection plant, October 2005.
Danish Company Aresa Biodetection has been working on the plant for
several years but has now developed the plant to the stage where it is a
becoming commercially viable biodetection system and can change colour from
green to red within 3-5 weeks of growth.
This technology is being developed to detect explosives present in landmines
and unexploded ordnance (UXO) in soil, as well as to detect and remove heavy
metals in polluted soil. The invention may significantly speed the removal
of landmines and UXO in cultivatable areas to permit the subsequent use of
cleared areas for agriculture to maximize socio-economic benefits. The
plants will be tested and gradually introduced in landmine and UXO removal
operations as the technology matures.
The landmine is one of the most insidious devices ever created by human
hands. There are more than 100 million landmines buried and active in the
world today. Another 100 million are stockpiled and ten million are produced
annually. More than a million people have been killed or maimed by landmines
since 1975. Half of all adults who stand on a mine die before they reach
hospital. Children, being smaller, are more likely to die from their
injuries, though there are still more than 300,000 children alive who have
been severely disabled by landmines.
Clearing mines is a dangerous and very costly job. Mines can cost as little
as $3 to produce yet the necessary care involved in clearing a landmine
costs more than US$2000 a mine. Even then, one accident occurs for every
1800-2000 mines cleared. For every one hour spent in laying mines, over 100
hours are spent de-mining to remove the same number of mines. If we stopped
laying mines NOW and continued clearing at current rates, the world would be
free of mines in the year 3100. One estimate of the cost of clearing the
world' landmines is US$33 Billion. Unfortunately, mines are being laid 25
times faster than they are being cleared.
Accordingly, the Danish discovery is of immense humanitarian value and rates
as one of the most important scientific discoveries of recent years and is
already being recognized as such. Geir Bj'rsvik, the Senior Advisor on
Landmines for humanitarian aid group, Norwegian People Aid, said of the
discovery, 'this is a promising development in the efforts to find a safe
and cost effective solution to detect mines, and is likely to be a very
welcomed addition to current methods if successfully passing further testing
in areas of operation.'
The technology is based on genetic engineering of the plant Thale Cress
(Arabidopsis thaliana). This plant has several advantages in developing this
For example, it is naturally selfpollinating and the plants developed by
Aresa are conditionally fertile such that they are male-sterile enabling the
growth of these Biodetection plants to be strictly controlled.
'This is a pioneering example of how we will see genetically engineered
plants applied for humanitarian and environmental purposes in the future',
says professor John Mundy, Department of Plant Physiology, University of
'Our team has set out to develop a technology with large potential benefits
all around the world.
Aresa Biodetection CEO PhD Simon 'stergaard said of their new system, 'in
time we may contribute to clearing land in large scale projects much faster
than is possible today, and reduce the number of people getting injured or
killed by landmines.'
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