back to article Hm, is that a minefield? Let me just throw my magic bomb-sniffing spinach over there

The humble spinach plant has been elevated into a bomb-sniffing sensor by embedding carbon nanotubes into its leaves. A group of researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that spinach can be turned in a chemical sensor for nitroaromatic compounds – a chemical rarely found in nature, but often found in …


  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Botanically interesting. I think it might be missing something in practical terms as a mine detector.

  2. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    Borg spinach?

    injecting nanoparticles into a biological lifeform. If the spinach begins sprouting ominous looking hardware, RUN.

    Of course, I suppose the adaptive shielding WOULD be very practical for surviving the odd mine detonation.

    1. Doctor_Wibble

      Re: Borg spinach?

      Hmm... plant-tech hybrids taking over the world, was there not a documentary series warning about the dangers of this technology a long time ago?

      Ah yes... Jayce_and_the_Wheeled_Warriors

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Borg spinach?

        Isn't it just great when a bunch of neurons started remember the title tune and then you can't get the damn thing out of your head without brain surgery?

        1. John H Woods Silver badge


          Brain surgery not required, simply hum a few bars of the Neighbours theme tune to yourself ...

          1. Doctor_Wibble

            Re: Earworm

            Fortunately I don't remember the theme tune due to always tuning in too late.

            But there is a sort-of cure that I found just recently which only recurs at odd intervals and eventually fades Big Fish Little Fish Cardboard Box

            So - better or worse than a rickroll...?

  3. Stuart Halliday

    Look, get someone to figure out how dogs noses work. Simulation it on wafer. Then put the sensor in my next phone. Job done.

    1. Woza

      Unfortunately, my dog has no wafer.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        At least not any more after it woofed it down in one bite.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Your dog has no wafer ??

        How does it wafe ?

        1. Loud Speaker

          It doesn't wafe, it strays!

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "Then put the sensor in my next phone."

      I don't think your selfie stick will be long enough for safety in a minefield.

      1. Geoffrey W Silver badge

        You eat the spinach, which gives you big strong arms, then throw the phone into the minefield, which has the added benefit of more profit for Apple et al when you go to replace it.

      2. Ralph the Wonder Llama

        Like the man said...

        ...job done.

      3. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        I don't think your selfie stick will be long enough for safety in a minefield.

        I read that sentence and immediately thought 'let's send everyone who uses a selfie stick into a minefield'. I know that wasn't what you meant, but I like my idea better

    3. Ben Bonsall

      Due to a hair lip, my dog is a wafer.

  4. Richard 12 Silver badge

    So how does one inject the nanotubes?

    Or plant a pre-treated plant?

    Without entering the minefield?

    This technique probably has some great applications, but minefield detection is definitely not one of them!

    Pollutant detection sounds feasible - plant them around a bunded tanked to spot leaks.

    1. fidodogbreath Silver badge

      Re: So how does one inject the nanotubes?

      Without entering the minefield?

      The nanotubes don't actually do anything. The researchers send an intern into the potential minefield with a syringe of water and instructions to inject the plants, and then watch from a safe distance.

  5. Chris G Silver badge

    I don't get it

    Using these plants for the detection of chemical nasties around factories or nuclear processing sites makes sense but bomb sniffing? What are they going to do, seed the whole of Afghanistan or the Middle East?

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: I don't get it

      It's not intended for the Middle East.

      such as picric acid

      It's for UK secondary schools: plant spinach around the Science Block.

      1. Jemma Silver badge

        Re: I don't get it

        Kids doing science?! Mumsnet will go berserk...

        Won't someone please think of the braindead parents?

    2. POKE 649,0

      Re: I don't get it

      "seed the whole of Afghanistan or the Middle East?"

      Perhaps they should see if the same results occur with the opium poppy as I hear they are grown in abundance out there.

  6. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    I wouldn't want to be an intern or wearing a red shirt when this goes into field testing.

  7. Youngone Silver badge

    Does no-one else care?

    I was most thrilled by the Raspberry Pi bit.

    Is there nothing the little beauties can't do?

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Does no-one else care?

      Tea, Earl Grey, Hot?

      1. lglethal Silver badge

        Re: Does no-one else care?

        Trust me, someone has made a Rasperry Pi Version of a Teasmade somewhere on the Internet... I guarantee it!

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. tfewster Silver badge

    A 21st century update for that old gag?

    Mother: Eat your spinach! There's plenty of kids in war zones who would grateful for that to detect mines!

    Sullen brat: Send it to them then - I don't want it!

  9. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

    And Spinach Harvester now outranks Alligator Wrestler on the World's Most Dangerous Jobs list.

  10. Winkypop Silver badge

    An even better use

    Spinach plants that detect the presence of Brussels Sprouts!

    Nobel prize awaits.

  11. Jemma Silver badge

    Couldn't resist...

    I'm weak at the finish,

    Cos AIDS beats out Spinach,

    I'm Popeye,

    The Dyin' man.. - Drawn Together

    One thing with this Spinach mine detector idea, wouldn't it be better in places like Vietnam to spray it from the air in a small area, and see if local plants show the effect as strongly? Because as I understand this you've got to traipse around planting spinach or injecting random plants (some of which are more than capable of taking extreme exception to being touched) in the middle of potential minefields.. Not a job conducive to general health.. While avoiding such lovable critters as Russell's Vipers and Blue Striped Coral snakes..

    I've a feeling this one of those "great ideas in the lab but this is real life" situations.

    I can't really think of any place to use it.. A nuclear accident, you'd know you were contaminated when you started to melt (or in the case of Chernobyl, the fish got sleepy), a chemical accident like Bhopal - you know when your lungs have climbed out of your chest to complain personally.. It's a clever idea, like the spiders spinning graphene webs but I can see a use for them, for this I just can't.

  12. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    There are drawbacks to using plants as chemical sensors, however.

    Like the need to plough the minefield to plant them?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What if

    The plants start lying to us, in an attempt to control human numbers?

  14. Ben Bonsall

    Sprinkle any old seeds, pigeons land, mines are detected. As a bonus, pigeon problem is also solved.

    1. James 51 Silver badge

      I doubt of pigeons would be heavy enough to trigger the mines.

      1. toughluck

        That's just the trick -- you mix seed with depleted uranium to make them heavier.

        1. Ben Bonsall

          Just need enough seeds to ensure they become very fat indeed.

  15. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

    That picture

    could the El Reg editors have found a photo of someone with a less ghastly smile? No? Thought so ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That picture

      Hey, I love that smile. I can see her thinking:

      "I'm going to ENJOY this lovely green drink."

  16. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    OK so let's see if I can find a use for it

    Spray solution on area of plants.

    Scan with IR camera.

    Check for fluoresce

    Map fluoresce data to model explosive concentrations.


    What the range in concentration sensitivity between plants. Are some in the same species 10x as sensitive as others or more or less the same?

    What's the range between plant species?

    If they are land mines how do you defuse/detonate them safely?

    At present one of those, clever in the lab, not so clever in the field ideas.

    But could get better

    1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      Re: OK so let's see if I can find a use for it

      > they are land mines how do you defuse/detonate them safely?

      You take a step back and then spray the solution in your assistant's eyes

  17. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "using plants as chemical sensors"

    I do believe they had great use for that on Giedi Prime. Sounds exactly like the kind of thing that universe would use all the time.

    Chalk up one more step to our bold, dystopian future.

  18. Unicornpiss Silver badge

    Seems a tad slow...

    Ok, we've got the bomb squad on scene. Plant the spinach. Send in the watering team. Okay, now wait... wait some more... Oh, it's not summer? Let's come back in 6 months and try again. And since fertilizer is full of nitrogen compounds, I wonder how that affects it?

    At least when you're done, you'll have the makings of a tasty salad, albeit with some added flavor.

  19. Stevie Silver badge


    It's like these "scientists" never even read The Day of The Triffids.

    Mark my words; this plant-tweaking won't end well.

  20. Haefen

    Sure no problems there

    Microbeads at 10 micrometres are hazardous and collect in the environment and people but 10 nanometre particles will be perfectly safe.

    And how can we have a free society if the government and business is monitoring you on a molecular level?

    As for the applications suggested we already have solutions for those we just choose not to use them.

  21. Sureo

    Using spinich is very clever

    You don't have to worry about people/animals stealing and eating it.

  22. Pat Harkin


    I clear the field, dig it over, plant spinach and watch it grow.

    If I CAN watch it grow, then there were no land mines in it.

    Is that how it works?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Real life usefulness

    I'll be impressed when they can grow a plant from seed that makes it's on nanotubes or whatever. Scatter the seeds from a small drone and then us a sensor equipped drone to spray a die over any area with bomb indications above the background level.

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: Real life usefulness

      I'm curious why that's better than a metal detector on the end of a long stick?


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