Bomb detecting spinach could be the future of anti-terrorism

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The future of combating terrorism and detecting dangerous explosives could involve spinach, MIT researchers say.

You might have some in your refrigerator right now, but researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they’re pushing it to do something amazing.

"What we've done is we've transformed a living plant into a chemical sensor,” MIT Professor Michael Strano said.

It may sound crazy, but think about it this way. The whole job of a plant is to pull water and nutrients from the soil, so they can also pull pollutants and chemicals from the soil.

The team at MIT infused the plant with nanoparticles that can detect the chemicals from explosives.

"The root system brings up the explosive material up to where the sensor is," MIT student Rosalie Sinclair explained to FOX25.

Once the chemicals are detected, they give off an infrared light. The light is detected by an infrared camera attached to a system that sends out an email.

“Explosives in the groundwater or explosives that touch the leaf will trigger the sensors and send that information to your smartphone," Professor Strano said.

That means in places that could be vulnerable to terrorism, like the areas around municipal drinking water sources, agencies would be alerted if a threat had been detected.

It could turn growing areas into bomb-sniffing devices that can communicate concerns.

“We think of them as high tech plants,” said Strano.

The MIT team has started a company called Plantia to begin to market the technology and they'd like to expand the types of chemicals detected.

They could also use the plant technology to let farmers know if a drought may be coming or pests are attacking crops.