Move Over, Bomb-Sniffing Hounds. You're About to Be Replaced by...Plants?

January 27 2011, 10:00 AM

"Never let it be said that horticulture can’t fight terrorism," writes Wired's Danger Room, referring to emerging research from Colorado State University that touts "bomb-spotting plants." That's right: plants. In the near future, rhododendrons or tulips could surpass dogs for their ability to sniff out bombs. Plants might one day be part of security gardens at malls, stadiums, and airports, notes the New York Times, as they have been rewired to drop the stuff that makes them green, chlorophyll, when small amounts of TNT are in the air, turning them white.

"It had to be simple, something your mom could recognize," says June Medford, the CSU professor of biology behind the research, which is published in the peer-reviewed online science journal PLoS One and largely paid for by the federal Defense and Homeland Security departments. The Fort Collins Coloradoan gets down in the weeds with researchers, noting that the plants currently take hours to respond. But improvements could reduce that response time to minutes. Another application for plant sentinels, as they've been dubbed: helping troops detect improvised explosive devices, says Linda Chrisey, program officer for the Naval Biosciences and Biocentric Technology Program at the Office of Naval Research. Wired has video with more on that front.