A new technique to detect chemical warfare agents using plants has been developed through a ground-breaking research project.
The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has worked alongside the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) to create the new method, meaning the white mustard plant can now help the fight against the use of deadly nerve agents in conflicts.
The organisations have developed a new technique of detecting chemical warfare agents (CWAs) – including the deadly VX nerve agent.
During investigations into the use of CWAs in Syria last year, the UN detected them through soil analysis.
The research of Dr Matthew Baker, from UCLan’s school of forensic and investigative sciences, and Matthew Gravett and Dr Christopher Timperley of Dstl, has shown plants grown on nerve agent contaminated soil can confirm the presence of VX when conventional soil analysis may not.
Dr Matthew Baker said: “By using white mustard plants to search for nerve agent residues, the OPCW and CWC member states will be better equipped to confirm their presence in future.
“Currently, the detection of CWAs relies on extraction of signature chemicals from soil, which is sometimes problematic. The discovery that white mustard plants can successfully absorb the agent from the ground offers a simple but innovative solution to remediate soil contaminated by VX.”