U.K. scientists use flowers to detect nerve agents

Scientists in the U.K. are conducting research on cultivated plants to detect chemical warfare agents.

The Defense Science and Technology Laboratory and the University of Central Lancashire are growing flowers in contaminated soil and then analyzing the plants to determine whether or not nerve agents are present.

The detection of nerve agents is often difficult because the chemicals used to make them are often absorbed by the soil at production or washed away by ground water. Certain plants, however, are known to absorb agents that can then be extracted using ethanol.

The common mustard plant can be used to identify the key markers in nerve agents up to 28 days after they are initially absorbed. This gives scientists a longer time window to detect, analyze and identify the type of substance used in an attack or made at a suspected production facility.

"This research will improve our sampling and analysis capability and provide the U.K. and international scientific community with a more effective way of detecting chemical warfare agents," the DSTL's Matthew Gravett said.

DSTL and the University of Central Lancashire researchers hope to extend their research by examining longer testing times and using different types of soil to improve their detection capabilities.