biologically designed plant as explosive detector

Plants are living. If they do not receive one of their requirements for life they physically change alerting a caregiver if present the need for intervention. This ability naturally has environmental quality implications. If a plant is subjected to an overdose of pollution it signifies that maybe things are not suitable for humans as well.

The unfortunate part is that this is not a real time process and does not really allow anyone to react appropriately. But what if plants were trained to visually respond to their environments immediately? Even enhanced to broaden or even focus the elements to which they responded to.

We were excited to find a research group at the Colorado State University who is very close to making this happen. As reported on Wired, the research team has successfully injected “receptor” proteins into a plants DNA which makes the plant turn white in reaction to proximity of certain chemicals often used for bomb making.

As Wired, illustrated, anyone attempting to transport these chemicals near one of the receptor plants a botanical alarm would be sounded as all them would immediately turn to white. They could be placed in all public places susceptible to terrorist attacks.

Does this present a potentially new niche for a landscape architect? Counter terrorism through landscape, through horticulture? The design of public spaces arranged to unknowingly filter people through stages of botanical surveillance, measuring possible hidden threats of all kinds. There are definite positive advantages to this alarm system but do complications with privacy rights propose problems down the road?


Imagine receptor plants becoming the common choice for urban parks because of their pollution detecting capabilities. But this science becomes more advanced, more variable in what they can detect. Plants that were once used to detect “terrorist” chemicals can now detect data streams through wifi signals, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation. Parks that were once places of refuge become, unbeknownst to the general public big brother surveillance zones.

A less dystopic vision, is the ability to compose the visual change in response to other plants and elemental factors. Certain plants placed in proximity to each other begin to change in color as one detects the other. Imagine being able to see the actual process of pollination, a plant illuminated each time it interacts with a bee or butterfly.

Either way, this will be exciting research to follow.

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