Human Flower Project
Friday, May 12, 2006
Danish, Canadian and U.S. scientists are closing in on a genetically engineered plant that will send up a floral signal: “DANGER—land mines below.”
Arabdidopsis thaliana will help clear the world of landmines
Photo: Evergreen State College
While superpowers harangue over nuclear-weapons programs, combatants in poor nations build and bury land mines. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, Bosnia/Herzegovina planted six million landmines and Croatia, three million. According to The Hindu Times, nearly every family in Cambodia has a relative who has died or lost a limb to these weapons. In Angola, between 70,000 and 100,000 people have been victims of land mines.
After the truces are signed, these bombs (easy and cheap to build) go on maiming people, usually children and farmers.
Landmine victims in Angola play soccer
Photo: Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation
Weeds and humans to the rescue! Scientists in Denmark have been tinkering with Arabidopsis thaliana (the homely Thale cress) trying to produce a plant whose flowers will change color in the presence of landmines.
“Within three to six weeks from being sowed over land mine infested areas the small plant…will turn a warning red whenever close to a land mine.” Arabidopsis can be genetically sensitized to the nitrogen-dioxide (NO2) that leaches from buried explosives.
Now we learn that scientists at Duke and the University of Alberta have been working on the same problem with the same plant. They’ve already managed to modify arabidopsis roots to change color; now it’s a matter of getting that telltale flush to appear above ground, on the cress flowers, too. “I think we’re about two or three years from something that might be practical in the field,” said University of Alberta’s Michael Deyholos.
Arabidopsis, lab rat of the plant world, sprouts and blossoms quickly. “The seeds could be dropped from an airplane over a suspected minefield. After a few weeks of growth, soldiers and civilians could judge by the plants’ colours whether the area is safe. The plants could be a huge help to civilians who want to reclaim farmland after a war.”
Congratulations to all these research scientists on success thus far. May you reach the goal of this ambitious human flower project ASAP.