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Military announces plans for genetically modified spy plants

When you hear the term “spy plants,” you might think of something out of a James Bond film. But the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is currently working to develop genetically modified plants that could be used for a wide range of military applications, including spying and detecting threats like radiation.

DARPA is the branch of the US military that creates new military technology, and spy plants could help identify where landmines are located and sense deadly pathogens in an area.

These genetically modified plants are not yet a reality, but DARPA’s Advanced Plant Technologies (APT) program is hosting a Proposers Day where researchers can weigh in and make suggestions on which types of plants would work best.

The program’s goal is to build on the natural ability of plants to sense outside stimuli like pollution, and then genetically modify the plants to be hyper-tuned to threats like chemicals or electromagnetic signals.

“Plants are highly attuned to their environments and naturally manifest physiological responses to basic stimuli such as light and temperature, but also in some cases to touch, chemicals, pests, and pathogens,” said Blake Bextine, the Program Manager for the APT program.

Satellites will be used to monitor these “smart plants,” and the APT program will work closely with federal regulations and biosafety committees to ensure that the plant’s survival is not hindered.

Bextine added that the new plant technologies would also reduce the risks posed to military personnel and prove less costly than traditional military sensor technology.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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