Raytheon, America’s biggest defence contractor, is using Luminescent microbes to help find buried explosives. The technology was developed under the DARPA contract, and Raytheon and Worcester Polytechnic Institute partnered to produce two new bacterial strains using synthetic biology, one of which is used to discover explosives buried deep in the ground and, once found, it will give out light with the interaction with the other.
The United Nations says landmines are a dangerous legacy of war, killing up to 20,000 people each year. And these explosives will contaminate nearby land. For more than a century, people have been working hard to develop better ways to find mines and explosives, which is extremely difficult and often results in casualties or the use of complex and expensive robots.
One idea that has existed for years is to produce genetically engineered bacteria that can be sprayed into an area to find explosives and remotely alert the disposal team to its location. To achieve this goal, Raytheon uses synthetic biology to produce two types of bacteria. If the first explosive compound is present, it interacts with the second to produce a sufficiently bright glow that can be seen by remote cameras and drones in the distance.
Alison Taggart, lead researcher on Raytheon’s underground surveillance bio-journalist program at BBN Technologies, said:
We already know that some bacteria can be programmed to be very good at detecting explosives, but it is difficult underground. We’re looking at how to get the reported bacteria to the depth of the ground, and then push the luminescent to the ground to make it easy to see.
“Using biosensors underground can help us save lives and detect threats to air quality and water supplies. The modular design of the system we are developing will allow us to replace different components as needed to detect a variety of threats and contaminants.