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Land Mine Detecting Flowers Follow-Up
Jamais Cascio, 25 Feb 04

Last month, we posted a brief comment about the development of bioengineered flowers which react to the presence of chemicals in the soil typically given off by land mines. The Christian Science Monitor now has a longer report about the plants, giving more details about the ongoing testing of the flowers and plans for future variants:

Field tests, scheduled to start in Denmark this spring and in other countries soon after, will determine how sensitive the plant is to nitrogen dioxide and how much of the gas is required to make it turn red. So far, the plant has shown signs of being oversensitive. "It's better to have a red spot and check it and find there isn't a mine than miss one that's there," Dr. Meier says.

The plant is self-pollinating. Researchers also removed the gene for an important growth hormone, which eliminates the risk of spreading pollen to unmodified plants because the new weed neither germinates nor sets seeds unless a specific fertilizer is used.

[...]

A further genetic modification of Thales cress may enable the plant to detect and clean soil contaminated by heavy metals and other sources of pollution, but research is just beginning in this area.

Oestergaard says a prototype of the mine-clearing version could be ready to sell in a few years.

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Comments

Very cool.... But:


The plant is self-pollinating. Researchers also removed the gene for an important growth hormone, which eliminates the risk of spreading pollen to unmodified plants because the new weed neither germinates nor sets seeds unless a specific fertilizer is used.

Of course, the article may not have all the details, but this seems to cover only half the problem. The gene for this growth hormone could easily re-enter the genepool due to fertilization of an engineered flower by pollen from an unmodified plant. The offspring of this cross may well have no dependence on the fertilizer to prevent germination.

Of course, the scientists involved have probably considered this situation, but it's a pity that the article doesn't mention the protections envisioned.


Posted by: Arun Thomas on 25 Feb 04

Arun, the company working on these plants -- Aresa -- may have answers to your questions. A link to the company can be found in the first article I posted about the flowers. Let's see... here:

http://www.aresa.dk/


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 26 Feb 04



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