Major Israeli breakthrough in landmine detection with biosensor development

Caroline Haïat

Digital Journalist | @carolinehaiat

3 min read
Land mine searching
Sergei SUPINSKY / AFPLand mine searching

Landmines pose a real threat to human life, with around 110 million currently deployed worldwide, causing the death or maiming of around 5,000 people annually

Enzymit, an Israeli biomanufacturing platform company developing cell-free enzymatic manufacturing technology, announced on Tuesday a breakthrough in landmine detection thanks to the development of a new protein-based biosensor capable of accurately detecting unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Landmines pose a serious threat to human life, with around 110 million currently deployed worldwide, causing the death or maiming of around 5,000 people every year.

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Enzymit collaborated with researchers from Professor Shimshon Belkin's Laboratory of Environmental Microbiology and Biosensors at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which has spent over a decade researching biosensing solutions for explosives.

The project resulted in the creation of a sophisticated biosensing platform using E. coli bacteria, capable of detecting traces of dinitrotoluene (DNT), the volatile by-product of TNT that escapes from mines in the ground. The research was published in the Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal.

"We are honored to partner with Professor Belkin's team and their unprecedented contribution to the development of biosensing solutions for explosives detection," said Gideon Lapidoth, CEO of Enzymit. "This project demonstrates the incredible potential for harnessing the synergy between synthetic biology and AI for a future where humanitarian and environmental challenges can be met with safe and sustainable solutions."

A sensor based on living cells, capable of detecting even traces of DNT, emitting bioluminescence to identify the location of explosive materials was developed. Thanks to Enzymit's proprietary algorithms and experimental capabilities, specific positions on the sensor have been modified for optimum performance. 

The sensor is up to five times more sensitive, has faster reaction times and a signal strength 30 times stronger than the original construction.

Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP
Sergei SUPINSKY / AFPSearching for land mines

The ability to accurately locate unexploded ordnance from a distance provides a more effective alternative to traditional detection methods, which require manual excavation or the use of metal detectors and present a substantial risk to life. The biosensor can be used to detect a range of TNT-based munitions, including unexploded shells and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), while the bacteria's versatility makes it suitable for use in remote or hard-to-reach locations.

"This collaboration highlights the potential of synthetic biology to solve some of the world's most pressing problems, with applications that go beyond landmine detection," said Shimshon Belkin, Professor of Environmental Microbiology and Director of the Hebrew University's Environmental Microbiology and Biosensors Laboratory.

The Belkin and Enzymit teams are currently working to further optimize the system, while exploring how the application of the biosensing platform can be extended to detect other hazardous materials, such as alternative forms of explosives, environmental toxins and dangerous chemicals.

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