"From spinach that can detect explosives to vegetarian meat, biological technology has the potential to change the world" says Dr Stuart Thompson.
In his article, originally written for The Conversation and republished in The Independent, Dr Thompson described five new uses for plants that have been developed using biological technology.
Bionic spinach can now be used to detect explosives after being impregnated with infrared nanotubes which emit light, but other plants can now go further. A plants’ ability to process water can be used to decontaminate soil. Contaminants that dissolve in water are taken up by plants and these are carried to the leaves and accumulate in there as the water evaporates, these plants are can then be harvested and removed, taking the contaminants with them. Recently scientists have been able to genetically modify certain plants to combine their capacity for processing water with the types of bacteria that can break down explosives meaning that we can now produce modified plants that can both detect and defuse explosives.
As well as detecting and diffusing explosives, some plants can be used as active explosives. Cellulose which forms the basis of most plants can be easily converted into nitrocellulose, commonly called Guncotton. This nitrocellulose can be diffused to create "plastics" which were used to create early cinema film and plastic bandages.
Finally Dr Thompson described a new alternative for vegatarians, scientists have recently created a burger made entirely from plant materials that looks, smells, tastes and even cooks like meat.