LWI - Land Warfare

Raytheon working on Subterranean Surveillance project

13th November 2019 - 11:30 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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Raytheon is working on a DARPA Subterranean Surveillance project to create new methods for detecting buried explosives using synthetic biology.

Under its DARPA contract, Raytheon is working with Worcester Polytechnic Institute to programme two bacterial strains to monitor ground surfaces for explosive materials.

The first strain will detect the presence or absence of explosives buried underground. If the first strain detects explosives, the second strain will produce a glowing light on the ground's surface. Remote cameras or UAS can then be used to survey large areas for the tell-tale luminescence. 

The Subterranean Surveillance programme is one example in which advances in synthetic biology are being used to develop sensors that can reveal a variety of subterranean phenomena at a distance. Synthetic biology combines principles of electrical engineering with computer science to modify DNA.

Allison Taggart, principal investigator for the Bio Reporters for Subterranean Surveillance program at Raytheon BBN Technologies, said: ‘We already know that some bacteria can be programmed to be very good at detecting explosives, but it's harder underground. We're investigating how to transport the reporting bacteria to the required depth underground, and then pushing the luminescence up to the surface so it's easily visible.

‘Using bio sensors underground could help us save lives as well as detect threats to air quality and the water supply. The modular design of the system we're developing will allow us to swap in different components as needed to detect various kinds of threats and contaminants.’

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