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Can Spinach Be Used To Detect Chemicals Including Those Found In Explosives?

supermoving / Flickr

supermoving / Flickr

While your kids may be pushing spinach greens off their plates, scientists are looking at the plant in a radically different way. Researchers are using nano-particles to turn spinach plants into sensors that can detect harmful chemicals including those found in explosives. 

When we talk about nano-technology, we're talking about particles thousands of times thinner than a human hair.

Scientists working at the meeting place of nano-tech and plant physiology have found a way to embed carbon nano-tubes into spinach plants.

UC Riverside Professor Juan Pablo Giraldo says this new technology lets plants do something extraordinary.

"Allowing them to detect chemicals (such as explosives) in the environment and communicate that to humans via electronic portable devices like a camera in your smart phone for example," Giraldo says.

Think of it as a way for plants to talk to scientists and tell them what they're experiencing in the environment, says Giraldo.

Giraldo says that conversation takes place by having an infrared camera that is continuously monitoring these plants.

"And by detecting changes the light intensity that is emitted from the sensors within the plant you can tell whether or not there is a presence of explosives," he says.

Giraldo says in the future this technology could be applied to plants at a high security facility, like an airport, to detect the presence of hazardous compounds like explosives. But we're still years away from a spinach-based bomb detection squad.

In the meantime scientists are looking to design nano-technology that could help farmers monitor plant health.

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