Much-hyped GM landmine detection fails
2.Less risk (in the property business) - ARESA (September 2008)
3.Flower-Power Could Help Clear Landmines - REUTERS (January 2004)
4.Saving Lives And Limbs With a Weed - TIME Magazine (November 2007)
NOTE: There's been a huge amount of publicity over the past few years about how GM plants are going to help us solve the problem of land mime detection.
News items around the globe - from the the New York Times to the BBC, from TIME Magazine to Reuters - have trumpeted their life saving potential, after a Danish biotech firm called Aresa claimed to have genetically modified plants so that they would 'Red Detect' - change colour from green to red when grown near to landmines or unexploded ordnance (ammunition/grenades etc.).
In an article as far back as January 2004 - Flower-Power Could Help Clear Landmines - the company claimed a prototype would be on the market "within a couple of years" (item 3).
Now it's emerged that the technology has failed and the scientific staff have been made redundant. Aresa is apparently trying to transform itself from a biotech company to a property investment firm as part of a "far less risky" investment strategy (items 1 & 2).
It will be very interesting to see how much, if any, publicity the failure of this GM 'Red Detect' technology attracts, given the massive amount of hype about the life saving potential of these GM plants - googling on "genetically + landmines + red detect" produces 14,700 hits.
1.Red card for the landmine plant
Aresa, 31 October 2008 [extracts]
As was expected the tests in Serbia did not produce a positive result (none of the plants changed colours to red when
growing in proximity to TNT-infected soil) and as the company explained at its general meeting, further development of the plant is assessed to last 2-3 years.
aresa is now left with patented technologies that have not been validated. This makes the value of the patents highly uncertain, and the technology represents value only if the biotech activities continue in some form. aresa has booked goodwill in relation to the patents of DKK 13,4m, which is now at risk of being written down to DKK 0.
A new start after the red card
aresa's Q3 results were the company’s last financial results as a biotech company. The scientific staff has been laid off, and the company is now preparing to launch itself as an investment company. We see favourable opportunities for land investment in the Balkans. Investments have started, but we have yet to see a specific plan. We therefore continue to suspend our rating of the share.
2.Less risk same focus
Aresa, 18 September 2008 [extract]
The business model behind the landmine plant has become outdated and consequently aresa is changing its strategy to investment in mine contaminated land in Croatia. aresa intends to maintain its humanitarian focus, but now with a far less risky investment case for the stock. The capital increase is expected to be approx. DKK 50m and existing shareholders will have preemption right.
3.Flower-Power Could Help Clear Landmines
REUTERS, January 28 2004
COPENHAGEN - A Danish biotech company has developed a genetically modified flower that could help detect landmines and it hopes to have a prototype ready for use within a few years.
"We are really excited about this, even though it's early days. It has considerable potential," Simon Oestergaard, chief executive of developing company Aresa Biodetection, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
The genetically modified weed has been coded to change colour when its roots come in contact with nitrogen-dioxide (NO2) evaporating from explosives buried in soil.
Within three to six weeks from being sowed over landmine infested areas the small plant, a Thale Cress, will turn a warning red whenever close to a landmine.
According to data compiled by Aresa, more than 100 million landmines have been spread out in 45 countries, hidden killers that often remain for years after a conflict is over.
Oestergaard said the problem of sowing the seeds in a potential landmine area could be overcome by clearing strips through a field by conventional methods or by using crop planes.
Currently landmines are mostly removed by putting a stick into the ground to locate the mine, then removing it and detonating it. Dogs and metal detectors are also often used.
"We don't think our invention will completely replace other methods. The main target of this product is soil that will be used for different agricultural activities," Oestergaard said.
Although there are no official figures for the number of victims of landmines, peace activists say tens of thousands are injured, maimed or killed each year.
Aresa's invention, based on research at the Institute of Molecular Biology at Copenhagen University, uses a plant's normal reaction to turn red or brown when subjected to stressful conditions such as cold or drought, but has genetically coded it to react only to nitrogen-dioxide.
TESTS START THIS YEAR
Aresa has succeeded in growing the genetically modified plant and hopes to launch restricted tests this year and to apply for field tests in Denmark and abroad after that.
Oestergaard said a prototype could be on the market within a couple of years but he declined to give a more specific date.
The use of landmines was outlawed in the 1997 Ottawa Convention and more than 90 countries committed themselves last year to cleaning up the debris of war to reduce the number of civilian casualties from munitions left by armed conflicts.
Aresa, a private company, is currently seeking strategic partners to speed up its development, both through financial and intellectual support, and has filed for intellectual property protection under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).
Oestergaard said Aresa's scientists were not the only ones trying to use genetically modified plants to detect landmines but its research was entirely independent from other projects.
It hopes to use the Thale Cress also for detecting and cleaning soil contaminated by heavy metals such as lead, copper, zinc and chromium, a major source of pollution in many industrialised countries.
Oestergaard said the modified weed was infertile and unable to spread its seeds, meaning the risk was minimal that the plant would spread into unwanted areas.
4.Saving Lives And Limbs With a Weed
By Mark Halper
TIME Magazine, Nov. 13 2007
On scrubby flatland outside Copenhagen Airport, Jarne Elleholm and Carsten Meier are watching green foliage turn red. This is no autumn leaf-peeping exercise. Rather, they're keeping an eye on a swath of weeds they're growing that should turn red in the proximity of land mines. If the weeds change hues as designed, Elleholm and Meier could save thousands of lives and limbs.
Their company, Aresa, a Copenhagen-based biotech start-up, has genetically modified a common weed called thale-cress so that its leaves turn red when the plant comes in contact with nitrogen dioxide--a compound that naturally leaches into the soil from unexploded land mines made from plastic and held together by leaky rubber seals. Aresa is growing large patches of the stuff on old army shooting ranges that have been seeded with land mines.
The Geneva-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines says there are an average of 15,000 to 20,000 land-mine deaths or injuries annually as innocent victims wander onto the leftover devices. Unknown numbers of unexploded mines are waiting to find victims in Angola, Cambodia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina and many other countries.
Unless the mines can be found first. "There are a lot of promises in land-mine detection, but still, what people often come back to is the guy poking around with a stick," says Elleholm, speaking of technologies such as ground-penetrating radar, infrared devices and thermal neutron activation. Many current methods are slow and cover no more than 1% of the estimated 77,220 sq. mi. of the world's land-mine-infested territory every year. Elleholm says Aresa's technique can cover five times as much ground in the same amount of time as other detection techniques.
Aresa uses a seeding hose known as a "hydroseeder"--groundskeepers use such a hose to grow green grass on golf courses--to cover about a football field of territory in a day. After four to five weeks the thale-cress will have sprouted and turned red if it encounters nitrogen dioxide. Normally, plants neutralize nitrogen dioxide, which they recognize as harmful. But Aresa scientists, led by founder Meier, have genetically engineered thale-cress, fusing its nitrogen dioxide neutralizer with an enzyme that creates red pigment (plants naturally produce red pigment, which isn't visible until the green disappears in autumn).
Aresa has had mixed results. The thale-cress does indeed turn red when it meets nitrogen dioxide. But Aresa can't get the weed to grow large enough to be easily visible. Aresa has experimented with only one of the more than 1,600 varieties of thale-cress. Following the summer letdown, the company ordered 174 different strains, and is awaiting seeds from Libya, Norway, the Caucasus, Britain, the U.S. and elsewhere.
Elleholm thinks Aresa will have a reliable land-mine-detecting thale-cress in about two years and hopes to apply similar biotech to detect larger, unexploded ordnance and eventually to cull antibodies from plants. But first it will focus on land mines. If it succeeds, Aresa will make thale-cress a weed that will be welcomed.