Researchers at University of California, Berkeley have successfully used the same properties that allow a turkey's flesh to change color while searching for a mate to create technology that will eventually allow officials to detect explosive devices.
The scientists used a bacteria-attacking virus that doesn't adversely affect humans to create a sensing material, the Los Angeles Times reported. They were able to engineer the virus in such a way as to swell up and change color in the presence of isopropyl alcohol, methanol, TNT and the high-explosive trinitrotoluene.
"In our lab, we study how light is generated and changes in nature, and then we use what we learn to engineer novel devices," UC Berkeley associate professor of bioengineering Seung-Wuk Lee told the campus newsletter.
In the end, researchers were able to detect fumes analogous to "single kernel of corn in a cylindrical silo 45 feet tall and 16 feet in diameter," and to create an iPhone app to analyze subtle color changes in their engineered viruses, the Times reported.
The authors of the study, which was published in Nature Communications, concluded that the implications of their research could go far beyond bomb-detection. The scientists said that ways to identify "a variety of harmful toxicants and pathogens to protect human health and national security" could be at hand.
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