Airport Security Using Bomb-sniffing Plants
- By Ginger Hill
- Oct 20, 2014
Imagine if airport security was literally a walk in the park surrounded by the pleasantries of lush green plants. That’s a stark contrast to the coldness of airport scanners, hard flooring on bare or socked feet and the hassle of removing items from bags to be placed onto a conveyor belt. Sound a little crazy? Well, it may not be as far-fetched as you might think.
June Medford, a synthetic biologist who dabbles in redesigning natural biological systems to find new, useful purposes, is currently working on harnessing the sensing abilities of plants, genetically engineering them into lean, green bomb and drug detecting machines. These engineered plants can be Internet-connected to webcams, enabling them to signal an alarm by changing colors ever so slightly that the human eye is unable to detect it.
Medford noted that the way we screen people at airports through a detector system is slow. She believes it would make more sense for airport passengers to walk through a garden-like setting with a webcam looking down on the plants, seeing if they detect anything. Although individuals can’t be identified, the plants would be able to detect something amiss, prompting further investigation.
Medford has worked on projects for The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency responsible for developing new technologies to be used by the military. In 2003, she reprogrammed plants to serve as security sentinels.
As founder of Phytodetectors, Inc., Medford, along with her partner, engineered Arabidopsis, a plant that changes color when it detects TNT or certain pollutants.
Medford said that plants are harder and slower to work with than bacteria, but she intends to keep on researching, “feeling her way through the dark.”
Ginger Hill is Group Social Media Manager.