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AP

Buried landmines can now be detected using bacteria engineered to sense explosive vapors, according to a new study in Nature Biotechnology.

Why it matters: There were more than 6,000 landmine-related casualties recorded in 2015. One of the biggest challenges in clearing landmines is finding them. Bacteria — along with plants and animals — have been proposed for detecting undetonated devices before, but this is the first demonstration of how bacterial sensors might work in the field.

How it works: Explosive vapors seep out of buried landmines and build up in the soil above them. Researchers genetically engineered bacteria that emit a fluorescent signal when they come into contact with vapors from the devices. They scattered the bacteria across a test field and then detected those that glowed with a laser. They searched for 18 landmine targets and only failed to detect four of them.

What's next: The researchers envision outfitting drones with the laser scanners, which would require a more compact design. They also caution they need to address how the bacteria can be removed after use and how to scale the technique so they can scan larger land areas.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Key government agency says Biden transition can formally begin

General Services Administrator Emily Murphy. Photo: Alex Edelman/CNP/Getty Images

General Services Administrator Emily Murphy said in a letter to President-elect Joe Biden on Monday that she has determined the transition from the Trump administration can formally begin.

Why it matters: Murphy, a Trump appointee, had come under fire for delaying the so-called "ascertainment" and withholding the funds and information needed for the transition to begin while Trump's legal challenges played out.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: Key information about the effective COVID-19 vaccines — Oxford and AstraZeneca's vaccine won't just go to rich countries.
  2. Health: U.S. coronavirus hospitalizations keep breaking recordsWhy we're numb to 250,000 deaths.
  3. World: England to impose stricter regional systemU.S. hotspots far outpacing Europe's — Portugal to ban domestic travel for national holidays.
  4. Economy: The biggest pandemic labor market drags.
  5. Sports: Coronavirus precautions leave college basketball schedule in flux.

Michigan board certifies Biden's win

Poll workers count absentee ballots in Detroit, Michigan on Nov. 4. Photo: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers certified the state's election results on Monday, making President-elect Joe Biden's win there official and granting him the state's 16 electoral votes.

Why it matters: Republican Party leaders had unsuccessfully appealed to delay the official certification, amid the Trump campaign's failed legal challenges in key swing states.

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