by Brian Merchant, Brooklyn, New York on 11.16.09
Photo via Reisendame
A stunning 87 countries around the world are still littered with undetonated landmines, and their impact is devastating. Tens of thousands of people are killed or injured by mines every year, and they pose a grave threat to ecosystems and wildlife. But an unexpected solution may be on the way–scientists have developed a special kind of bacteria that actually begins to glow in the presence of landmines.
It seems like something straight out of a science fiction film, but this new bacteria is very real. According to the BBC, the “scientists produced the bacteria using a new technique called BioBricking, which manipulates packages of DNA.” The bacteria is then mixed into a colorless solution, “which forms green patches when sprayed onto ground where mines are buried.” The bacterial stew can also be dropped via airplane in extremely sensitive areas.
Then, only a few hours after it’s sprayed or dropped, the bacteria begins to glow green if it’s next to an undetonated explosive. This, of course, would be an invaluable asset in the ongoing quest to rid nations like Somalia, Bosnia, and Cambodia of their atrocious, deadly minefields.
While there’s been much experimenting with new landmine detection techniques–genetically engineered mine-sniffing rats, color changing plants, and tobacco bio-sensors, to name a few–scientists are especially optimistic about the bacteria because the solution is cheap and easy to mass produce.
Landmines are one of the most horrible artifacts of war there are–they’ve killed and scarred millions during their tenure as the cheap, debilitating guerrilla weapon of choice. While human suffering is the first and foremost concern when it comes to landmines, it’s often overlooked that landmines are severe threats to the ecosystems as well. Millions of animals have also been obliterated by landmines.
According to BNet, one environmental specialist
has compiled anecdotal reports of more than 1.6 million animals dying from land mines in 39 countries. In his collection are stories of as many as 20 elephants a year being killed by mines in Sri Lanka, of animals being “blown to pieces” in the Falkland Islands, and bears, deer and foxes triggering the devices in Croatia.
Elephants wounded by mines in Thailand have been known to be given prosthetic legs to help them survive.
This elephant was the victim of a landmine. Photo via Antidictatorship
Landmines are a particular threat in areas rich with biodiversity. Countries like Myanmar (Burma), Colombia, Mozambique, Cambodia, and Angola are all teeming with wildlife–and have some of the largest minefields on the planet. While the specific numbers on animal fatalities remain inconclusive, researchers agree that mines are devastating in such environments.
Now, perhaps, this new glowing bacterial solution will help prevent both people and wildlife from meeting a fate nobody–and no animal–should ever have to suffer.