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Color changing plants


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I was reading this article about research groups trying to engineer plants so that they change colour is they detect explosives or high levels in the air. At the end of the article they outline the aim to have them in places like airports so that the authorities can detect explosives in the air.


To me, this seems like a good idea, seeing as plants tend to be in these highly sensitive area anyway and why not make them useful? I am assuming, however, that these plants have been genetically modified and so how will the legal/enviromental problems be dealt with. I know that genetically modified bacteria in labs have to be strictly controlled to prevent them from being released into the enviroment; is it the same for plants?


I suppose if they used plants the reproduced asexually, then it would avoid the problem of them cross-pollinating other plants and therefore spreading the modified genes. Although, genetically modified crops are not asexual...

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The restrictions on GM plants depend on the country. In the UK, you have to have a license from DEFRA to be able to engineer or grow GM plants, and they aren't allowed to be grown outside controlled conditions. There have been some field trials, but they were sabotaged by Greenpeace. To my knowledge, there should be no GM plants outside of labs in the UK.


In the US/China/Brazil though there are GM plants all over the place (in agriculture), and increasingly in other parts of the world.


Controlling reproduction is one possible method of preventing gene flow from GM to wild species. Possibilities include preventing pollen production genetically, or only using species which don't produce pollen. There are many plant species which won't flower except in certain conditions, so another option is to keep them in controlled climates so they don't flower. That's a bit risky though, prone to error. I'd go with engineering non-pollen producing plants.


The major problem at the moment with that technology is that the reaction time is so slow. Dogs and electronic sensors react immediately, but the plants take hours to suppress chlorophyll expression and then a few more hours before they actually change colour. By that time the bombs will have been detonated. If they can get the reaction times down to seconds, then it will be a viable proposition.

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