This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Following the investigations of the use of chemical warfare agents (CWAs) in Syria last year, the threat of deadly toxic chemicals in conflict is ever more serious.
However, a new technique developed by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), a trading fund of the UK Ministry of Defence, has found a way to detect such CWAs just by using the humble white mustard plant.
In a groundbreaking research project, UCLan and Dstl have shown the white mustard plant can be used to detect previously undetectable levels of nerve agents in CWAs, including the deadly VX agent.
The VX agent is a persistent liquid which is easily dispersed and highly toxic when breathed in or absorbed through the skin.
The research showed that by growing white mustard plants in soil contaminated with VX, the plants would absorb the intact agent and degrade it to chemicals that indicate its presence in the environment, even if it was 45 days since initial contact.
Not only does the white mustard plant detect the agent, but it also helps remove it from the ground. Conventional soil analysis cannot do this, especially not this accurately.