Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Anti-mine microbes?

Anti-mine microbes?

Anti-mine microbes?

091120_04
Akira, a former Khmer Rouge child soldier, prepares to defuse a mine using traditional – and risky – methods.

There's a lot of work to do before it could be used in the field.

BIOENGINEERED bacteria that glow green in the presence of explosives could someday give Cambodia a safer, cheaper way to detect land mines, Scottish researchers say.

The bacterium was Edinburgh University’s entry in the 2009 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, which challenges students to develop living inventions using a set of standard genetic “parts” known as BioBricks.

Dr Alistair Elfick, who led the team, explained: “The device uses E coli engineered to produce a sensing molecule and a reporting mechanism. The explosives detector has a … membrane receptor which binds volatile TNT molecules and … produces light.”

The bacteria, which could be modified for use with other explosives, is harmless to people and animals. Environmental impact is minimised, Elfick said, by the fact that cells “die after a few hours, as they are not robust enough to survive in the wild.”

It will be a while before the bacteria are released on Cambodian soil, however – researchers have tested it only “on a very small scale and within the lab”.

“There’s a lot of work to do before it could be used in the field,” Elfick noted.

Were the team’s bio-invention able to make the leap from workshop to wilderness, its presence would be welcome in Cambodia, where massive aerial bombing by the US and decades of civil war littered the country with land mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO), particularly along its eastern and western borders.

Roath Kanith, director of the training and R&D department at the Cambodia Mine Action Centre (CMAC), said that the metal detector, still the technological backbone of the country’s demining efforts, performed with suboptimal speed and efficiency. “This is old technology; it picks up any metal,” Roath Kanith said. “Based on a recent CMAC analysis, out of 513 detections, only one will uncover an anti-personnel mine. We waste a lot of time on false alarms.”

Teams of 25 traditional deminers – using brush cutters, metal detectors and dogs, and protected only by masks, helmets and blast vests — can clear up to 2,000 square metres of mined area per day. According to Cambodia’s deadline-extension request to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty (APMBT), 516 square kilometres of mines and UXO were cleared between 1992 and 2009. There are still 648.8 square kilometres to be cleared.

MOST VIEWED

  • Chinese influx pushing locals, Westerners out of Preah Sihanouk

    Some within the Kingdom’s tourism industry have speculated that the recent influx of Chinese visitors may hinder domestic tourism as the price of accommodations in the coastal city of Sihanoukville continues to rise. Preah Sihanouk province, which has become a hotbed for Chinese investment

  • ‘Dire consequences’ from sanctions, warns AmCham

    American businesspeople in Cambodia have warned that any sanction against the Kingdom would have “dire consequences” that could push Cambodia even further into the arms of China. In a letter to US senators and representatives dated Monday, the American Chamber of Commerce Cambodia (AmCham) said

  • CPP: ‘Behave or Sokha suffers’

    The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman warned Kem Monovithya on Thursday that her attempt to damage “national reputation and prestige” would lead to her father, Kem Sokha, receiving even harsher punishment. Sok Eysan issued the warning as Monovithya, who is the court dissolved

  • Preah Sihanouk beach developments halted

    After receiving an order from Hun Sen, Minister of Land Management Chea Sophara led a team of experts and relevant officials to Sihanoukville to call a halt to the illegal development of a beach. The prime minister ordered the Prek Treng beach in Otres commune