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Environmental applications of luminescence

Bioluminescent microbial-electronic modules for the detection of buried explosives

Shimshon Belkin1, Etai Shpigel2, Liat Moscovici1, Yonatan Uziel3, Mulkan Adgo3, Offer Schwartzglass3, Yossef Kabessa3, . A. J. Agranat3

1Institute of Life Sciences, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, 2Institute of Life Sciences, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 3Institute of Applied Science, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

E-mail: sb@mail.huji.ac.il

Landmines and explosive remnants of war pose a global humanitarian problem which claims numerous casualties long after the conflict has ended. Current approaches for the location of landmines, such as metal detection, which require physical presence at the minefield, involve high risk to personnel; these methods are also costly, time consuming, and have a high rate of false positive results. No currently viable technology allows the remote detection of buried explosive devices. A possible solution may be provided by the use of genetically engineered E. coli strains, molecularly “tailored” to emit a bioluminescent signal in the presence of trace explosives escaping for the landmine and accumulating in the soil above it. The emitted bioluminescence then serves to generate a physical map of the mines' location. The optical signal emitted by the sensor bacteria in response to the presence of trace explosives in the soil below them is imaged and quantified by one of two means: (a) Imaging from a remote location, such as by a drone; (b) A network of bioelectronic modules, incorporating the sensor bacteria and harboring all the necessary electronics and optics. The latter system will be described, along with the synthetic biology approaches employed that significantly enhanced the major performance parameters: higher signal intensity, faster response time, and lower detection threshold of the target explosives.

Keywords: Bacterial whole-cell biosensors, buried explosives, bioluminescence, landmines, optoelectronics, synthetic biology


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