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Security Idle Science

Bomb Detecting Plants To Root Out Terrorists 55

Posted by samzenpus
from the plants-vs.-terrorists dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "The Denver Post Reports that a biologist at Colorado State University has re-engineered plants so that they can detect explosives, air pollution and toxic chemicals, signaling the presence of potentially deadly vapors by turning from green to white. 'If you take something into Denver International Airport, like an explosive for a plane, my plants are going to turn white,' says June Medford, who developed the system. 'That's going to get the security guys on you.' Military and Homeland Security research directors say they envision wide applications for the genetically modified plants positioned in buildings, war zones and cities where terrorists could set up covert bomb-making factories and add that strategic placement of the plants could help reach a goal of deploying a decentralized, nationwide system for detecting explosives. 'Our hope is if these plants could be located ubiquitously, we might be able to detect explosives at the point they are being assembled,' says Doug Bauer, the Homeland Security explosives research program manager. 'You would have a much greater opportunity for first-responders to interdict and disrupt that activity.'"

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Bomb Detecting Plants To Root Out Terrorists

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  • by alphatel (1450715) * on Friday January 28, 2011 @04:56PM (#35037614)
    Works great as long as you can wait a few hours for the plant to change color.
    • by goombah99 (560566)

      Wrong,
            Chemical changes can happen in seconds. Just your fingers typing on the keyboard has produced the turn over of countless molecules. How quickly can you smell something that makes your gut wretch?. How quickly can you suffocate? these are all biochemical reactions. Many proteins have a lifetime of minutes.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        How quickly have you seen a plant do anything?

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          Venus flytraps close in less than a second, and mimosa pudica will fold in on themselves very quickly after being touched. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0LFBM3hOLs)

      • It says three hours.

      • by Goldsmith (561202)

        So the peer reviewed article claims it takes 24-48 hours for plants to detect these changes. It's not as easy as just saying that chemistry happens fast. Binding TNT to the receptor on the plant sets of a chain of interactions which cause certain DNA sequences to be expressed, leading to production of enzymes which destroy pigments in the plant. There's a lot of membrane crossing and diffusion involved, and that all takes time.

        The mammalian sense of smell takes about 0.2 seconds to register a response el

    • You're quite right. There's a lot of applications where you have plenty of time - such as locating areas where bomb building activities may be in progress, or searching out land mines. You could also (possibly) tell when a bag run through security contained explosives - I know people aren't usually checking bags three hours early, but you could still isolate the likely flights/destinations if in the realm of airport security.

      Also, depending on the biological/kinetic pathways - that three hours may be very

      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        There's a lot of applications where you have plenty of time - such as locating areas where bomb building activities may be in progress,

        Like ... pretty-much anywhere within a couple of days travel time of an airport (not necessarily the closest airport.

        You could also (possibly) tell when a bag run through security contained explosives

        Sorry, didn't you take class Terrorism 1.0.1 when you first got a mobile phone? It was obvious then (mid-1990s) that these devices gave remote (as in "distance from detonator"

  • by jefe7777 (411081)
    petrifried np and all that stuff....
  • Doug Bauer, the Homeland Security explosives research program manager

    Really?

    • by c0d3g33k (102699)

      It's a common enough name for those of germanic origin. It means "Farmer".

      Your joke falls flat, because reality is much more mundane than fiction.

      • by khallow (566160)

        It means "Farmer".

        Really?

        • by jc42 (318812)

          It means "Farmer".

          Really?

          Yeah, really. You'd think that "Bauer" would be derived from "bauen" (build), and it might well be, but it's an illustration of the fact that German is no more logical than any other human-developed language. There are a number of German-English dictionaries online; go look it up.

          • Yeah, really. You'd think that "Bauer" would be derived from "bauen" (build), and it might well be, but it's an illustration of the fact that German is no more logical than any other human-developed language. There are a number of German-English dictionaries online; go look it up.

            No more logical, perhaps, but there's something about the word Handschuh in particular that I find beautifully elegant.

      • by bar-agent (698856)

        It's a common enough name for those of germanic origin. It means "Farmer".

        So, very familiar with fertilizer, ammonium nitrate, things of that nature?

        And plants too. Well, he seems to be the right man for the job.

  • That should be

          Bomb-detecting Plants To Root Out Terrorists

  • by coolmoose25 (1057210) on Friday January 28, 2011 @05:01PM (#35037682)
    Read a different story on this and my favorite quote was that it would probably never be able to pick up on a bomb made with Ammonium Nitrate, because, well, that's fertilizer...
    • by TheCarp (96830)

      Not true at all, I have several plants that will detect fertilizer. In the presence of sun and water, it makes them grow like crazy.

      Now, where is my TSA money? I am pretty sure that come late spring I will be able to outfit half their facilities with fertilizer detecting vines. I would happily do it for... $20 million. A bargain really.

  • Mine detection (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The Iconoclast (24795) on Friday January 28, 2011 @05:03PM (#35037702)

    This is something they've been kicking around for minefield detection for a while. Seed a purported minefield with grass that behaves differently in the presence of explosive, then wait and you can see where to avoid and send the demolition crews.

    • by quixote9 (999874)
      Seeding a minefield with indicator grass, I could see that working. Potted plants at airports catching passing terrorists? No.

      I can hear them now: Ground crew to Terminal Control: "We need another delay on Flight 36983. The aspidistra at Gate 9 next to the guy with the briefcase may be kinda light green. We need more time!"
  • Groan.

  • continue building my covert explosives factory but before i head back to it after lunch, buy a box of salt or a bottle of weed killer. terrorists: 1, magic rainbow plant: 0.
  • We have to remember to water them.

  • Obviously this whole concept is a bit silly, but how exactly would these plants be able to isolate WHICH passenger was carrying bomb materials, if they happened to turn white?

    And as somebody else mentioned, I'm sure it takes a while for the plants to change color..

    And I'm sure there are MANY explosives (fertilizer based?) that these things probably wouldn't detect, and probably many things that would cause false positives..

    I suppose it might be usefult to plant these things around suspected bomb-ma
    • by hedwards (940851)
      The same way that the check points prevent suicide bombers from hitting the line. This would enable them to stop planes from departing or people from boarding them and just ensure that the terrorists hit the people waiting to be screened.

      This is going to be about as helpful as those scanners are, but less likely to result in sexual assault charges being filed against TSA employees.
      • This is going to be about as helpful as those scanners are, but less likely to result in sexual assault charges being filed against TSA employees.

        Apparently you haven't seen the Japanese remake of 'Little Shop of Horrors'.

  • I was wondering what Popcap was going to do for the sequel to Plants vs. Zombies. I guess Plants vs. Terrorists would work well enough.

  • This makes sense. When you walk into the airport, you're given a flower pot with soil in it and a seed inside. By the time you get to the security gate, the seed will have grown to a flower. The TSA officers will then let you in based on the color of the flower.

    This won't take any more time than usual, because waiting in line at the airport is already like watching plants grow.

    - RG>

    • by Archtech (159117)

      The best part of it is that the TSA is actually setting up the terrorists' next big target for them: the huge queues waiting to go through "security".

      That is assuming there are any terrorists (other than Americans) trying to blow things up in America, which seems extremely doubtful. The whole rationale for TSA's existence reminds me of a joke I heard at school when I was about 6: "Why do elephants have yellow feet?" "So they won't be seen when hiding upside down in bowls of custard". "That's ridiculous, I'v

  • Terrorist 1 builds bomb in remote location in a "clean room". Hermetically seals it and drops it off at location A.

    Terrorist 2 picks the bomb from location A and and chemically cleans/sterilizes the outside. Then drops it off at location B

    Terrorist 3 picks the bomb up at location B and then delivers it to the target.

    Oh and BTW Terrorist 3 detonates it in the crowd waiting to get to the security checkpoint before any testing for explosives will be done.

  • Great, now my salad will be working for the TSA and giving me attitude.

  • Researchers at the 32nd Street Regional University and Pub have announced a genetically engineered ficus [google.com] that can detect disloyalty [wikipedia.org].

  • start stocking up on herbicides.
  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Friday January 28, 2011 @05:58PM (#35038370)
    This system is too easy to defeat. All a troublemaker has to do is get a small amount of the target substance and spread it around to trigger a false alert. For example, just walk in the public areas in front of an airport and sprinkle some powder on the sidewalk and leave. All the people walk in the powder, walk inside and then chaos ensues. This can be done at any scale, so even planing over an entire city will not allow bomb making locations to be located. Although this could be very useful in a limited way, it is not a quick fix for everything.
  • Awesome idea, and I'd love for a minefield in the spring to look like beautiful-but-deadly Warhol painting.

    But I really don't like one aspect of the plants that my tax dollars are paying for. From TFA:

    Homeland Security agents are interested in adaptations so that only agents using infrared technology could see plant color changes, Bauer said.

    If the plants are going to detect things that blow up, wouldn't it be a Good Thing for us average citizens to be able to use them? Allowing civilians to become projec

  • They can get to the root of the problem.

  • How fast does the indicator work? How much trace is needed to cause indication? How many things can it detect? What explosives or other prohibited materials is it incapable of detecting that really should be that is detected by the other systems in place that can already detect what the plant does?

    There are a LOT of other questions in addition to these that would need to be answered before even contemplating the possibility of employing a detection system like these plants.

    You want fast detection from tiny
  • I have heard this described as working like how a dog sniffs explosives.

    ...

    Screw the plant, use a damned dog.

  • Try not to fart around it.

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