Friday, July 31, 2009

From Seed to Sentinel

By Kristopher Hite

Imagine stepping onto a vast green field. A closer look and you notice circular patches of white grass speckle the landscape. If you know what you are looking at these biological signals might save your life as you proceed. TNT leaching from buried landmines activate plants with an engineered ability to "degreen" in the presence of specific molecules. Though these sentinals have yet to be deployed on the battlefield it is not hard to imagine a technique like this being used to save lives. A clear example of synthetic biology at work this technology was developed by June Medford at Colorado State University.

By fully controlling an entire signal transduction pathway in plant cells synthetic biology allows scientists to use predictable on/off signals like plant pigment to do positive work for humanity. Plant-based reconnaissance technology is one of many foreseeable applications for controlled synthetic gene networks. June Medford along with other thinkers like Craig Venter and George Church work at the forefront of this emerging chapter of biotechnology. We are all watching to learn the next twist in this story.


Antunes, M., Ha, S., Tewari-Singh, N., Morey, K., Trofka, A., Kugrens, P., Deyholos, M., & Medford, J. (2006). A synthetic de-greening gene circuit provides a reporting system that is remotely detectable and has a re-set capacity Plant Biotechnology Journal, 4 (6), 605-622 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7652.2006.00205.x

3 comments:

zimclive said...

I have cleared landmines for a living and have numerous practical questions for this esoteric thought experiment:-

How do you sow your seed?
Your grass will need to grow vigorously to compete effectively with indigenous species. In a 3rd World environment how are you going to ensure that your grass does not impact negatively on local ecosystems?
How do you compete 'effectively' without contributing to habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity?
How do you remove your grass from the ecosystem once the mines are gone?
What if this mine is not TNT based? There are lots of other explosive bases and a false sense of security is more dangerous than a properly identified 'Dangerous Area' (classified according to IMAS). Surely this grass is likely to give locals with little understanding of the real threat a false sense of security.

In summary it's like mine detecting bees, rats etc. Conceptually they are all great ideas, but none of them are field practical and none of them pick up the land mines!

zimclive said...

I have cleared landmines for a living and have numerous practical questions for this esoteric thought experiment:-

How do you sow your seed?
Your grass will need to grow vigorously to compete effectively with indigenous species. In a 3rd World environment how are you going to ensure that your grass does not impact negatively on local ecosystems?
How do you compete 'effectively' without contributing to habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity?
How do you remove your grass from the ecosystem once the mines are gone?
What if this mine is not TNT based? There are lots of other explosive bases and a false sense of security is more dangerous than a properly identified 'Dangerous Area' (classified according to IMAS). Surely this grass is likely to give locals with little understanding of the real threat a false sense of security.

In summary it's like mine detecting bees, rats etc. Conceptually they are all great ideas, but none of them are field practical and none of them pick up the land mines!

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