The unchecked dispersal of antipersonnel landmines since the late 19th century has resulted in large areas contaminated with these explosive devices, creating a substantial worldwide humanitarian safety risk. The main obstacle to safe and effective landmine removal is the identification of their exact location, an activity that currently requires entry of personnel into the minefields; to date, there is no commercialized technology for an efficient stand-off detection of buried landmines. In this article, we describe the optimization of a microbial sensor strain, genetically engineered for the remote detection of 2,4,6-trinitrotoloune (TNT)-based mines. This bioreporter, designed to bioluminescence in response to minute concentrations of either TNT or 2,4-dinitotoluene (DNT), was immobilized in hydrogel beads and optimized for dispersion over the minefield. Following modifications of the hydrogel matrix in which the sensor bacteria are encapsulated, as well as their genetic reporting elements, these sensor bacteria sensitively detected buried 2,4-dinitrotoluene in laboratory experiments. Encapsulated in 1.5 mm 2% alginate beads containing 1% polyacrylic acid, they also detected the location of a real metallic antipersonnel landmine under field conditions. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report demonstrating the detection of a buried landmine with a luminescent microbial bioreporter.
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© 2020 The Authors. Microbial Biotechnology published by Society for Applied Microbiology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd