As I mentioned today the global landmine problem is getting worse, not better. Currently landmines are being planted at a rate 25x greater than they are being cleared. According to the UN, even if no more landmines were planted ever again it would take over 1100 years to remove all the mines that are currently in place using present day technology.
Although innovative programs like the HeroRats organization can greatly speed up demining, there is a clear need for multiple tools to manage the growing problem. The Nitrogen dioxide detecting plants, RedDetect, I mentioned in class are now being developed by Aresa - a non-profit organization in Wallonia, a part of Belgium. Although Arabidopsis plants were originally used it was decided that, although they grow quickly, they were not visible enough from a distance (kind of important if you want to stand well back). Therefore the same technqiue has been applied to tobacco plants. The tobacco plant was chosen as it is known to grow well in a wide range of environmental conditions and any changes in colour can easily be seen because of its large leaves. The tobacco plants were transformed in the same way as the Arabidopsis with an activation gene from the snapdragon plant, which enables them to detect nitrogen dioxide, a by-product of landmines, in contaminated soil. This releases anthocyanin, a natural red plant pigment, into the leaves.
As of April 2009 the plants have already been successfully tested in laboratories and greenhouses and are now undergoing field trials in Serbia and South Africa. The plants only detect the mines of course, someone still needs to physically remove them...
One of the guys that took us into the minefield has stepped on 6 landmines. The first landmine blew off his foot. The next landmine took off half his leg. The next 4 blew his prosthetic leg to pieces, and he hopped down to the NGO for a replacement. Yet, he keeps going back into the minefields to illegally cut down trees that he can sell to the Thais for $5 a piece. This is how he feeds his family. And that is the life of a village de-miner.
From Adam Katz's blog entry about a visit to a Cambodian minefield.