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South African researchers are working on a genetically engineered tobacco plant that turns red near land mines — offering a potentially cheap way to clear post-conflict zones.
The usual methods used to clear land mines are costly and dangerous, relying on random checks in a small area. But the GM tobacco would be able to assess an entire field.
The RedDetect GM technology was first developed by Danish firm Aresa, using a weed called Thales cress, with the leaves turning to red from green if nitrogen dioxide from mines in is present in the soil.
But Stellenbosch researcher Estelle Kempen says the weed is too small to spot from a distance. Tobacco, growing easily in most parts of the world is a better choice.
Aresa are conducting field trials in Serbia. The Stellenbosch researchers have applied for permission to conduct trials at the Welgevallen experimental farm, outside Stellenbosch.
Kempen says they want to assess how the plants respond to drought and extreme temperatures.