DARPA project seeks bacteria that can detect hidden bombs

Raytheon has announced that it is working with DARPA on a project for detecting buried explosives using a unique method: bacteria. The work is taking place under a contract from the agency; Worcester Polytechnic Institute joins Raytheon in 'programming' two different bacteria strains to detect bombs located underground.

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contracts with a number of private companies in order to explore and develop various technologies useful for military and homeland security purposes. These projects have ranged from advanced medicines for soldiers to new weapons for the battlefield.

The first of the bacteria strains to be developed under this project will work to detect whether there are explosives buried in the ground, according to Raytheon. The second strain will be designed to present a 'glowing light' on the ground where the explosives were detected, assuming any are present.

The idea of programming bacteria to detect explosives isn't new, but it's trickier when the bombs are located underground, the company notes. The bacteria will need to penetrate deeply enough into the ground to detect the explosives, while the glowing aspect will need to take place on the surface in order to alert people who are monitoring it.

The entire project is made possible by synthetic biology, which involves using computer science and electrical engineering to modify DNA, Raytheon explains. Programmed bacteria could be used to detect a variety of potential threats or contaminants, according to the company, which says the system it is designing will be modular.