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Landmines description
Personal note

I never knew much about the landmine problem in the world, but I guess this was another aspect of life that iGEM opened my eyes to. I was particularly angered by the fact that landmines respond to very low pressure—surely the risk mines pose to children could have been greatly minimized by increasing the amount of pressure needed to activate them? Through presenting our project this year I hope the world’s landmine problem will become known to others, and raise awareness of just how horrendous landmine deaths and injuries are.



A landmine is an explosive device planted in the ground and activated by pressure, magnetic fields and tripwires, among many others. They are one of the most commons weapons used in modern warfare and are most often used as tactical barriers and enemy deterrents.

An M16 anti-personnel mine can be activated by 11 pounds of pressure—equivalent to a small child

An anti-tank mine, activated by high pressure


Landmines are very controversial as after the conflict is over, they remain in the ground as unexploded ordnance—that is, they remain active for many years and the maps of their location are often lost and forgotten. For this reason abandoned minefields around the globe pose a constant danger to civilians.

Landmine Casualties

Anti-personnel mines maim and kill 15000 to 20000 people every year, 80% of which are civilians, and a further 1/3 of which are children. Since the 1970’s, 1 million people have been killed or maimed by landmines, most of the casualties reported have been in Cambodia, Iraq, Burundi, Afghanistan and Laos.

Active Landmine Map

The map of active minefields in the world is shown below. The UN has estimated that 100 million landmines are planted in the world right now, and almost twice that is in stockpiles. Angola and Cambodia are among the countries with the highest active landmine count.

(Image source: Canadian Landmine Foundation, 2008)

It is clear that the distribution and amount of active minefields in the world are extremely high. The UN has set a landmine detection goal of 99.6%, a goal which no current mine detection methods can fulfil.

Features and Components of Landmines

Anti-personnel mines are the most numerous and are commonly planted in various patterns in open fields. The most widespread of these, the M16 (below), is mostly plastic which makes the detection of this mine even more difficult. The M16 contains 1.15 pounds of TNT(contained in primer mixture, shown below) and is activated by 11 pounds of pressure. Upon activation, the mine is propelled above ground and explodes in mid-air, releasing large amounts of shrapnel. After a certain time in the ground, landmines begin to leak various chemicals into the soil, some of which include 1,3-DNB, 2,4-DNT, and 2,4,6-TNT, nitrate and nitrite.

Features of the M16 Anti-personnel Mine (Image source: US Department of defense)

The most common methods of minesweeping and demining are probing (with sticks), ploughing, using anti-mine vehicles and metal detection. Physical presence is required for all of these methods and they are costly and time-consuming.


Animals, such as dogs and rats (termed HEROrats—below) can be trained to sniff out vapours, such as nitrates and nitrites, emanating from landmines. Vapour-sensitive chips can also be attached to honeybees, cockroaches and other insects. Nitrate and nitrite-sensitive Arabidopsis thaliana has also been developed by the company Aresa. The plant turns red in the presence of landmine vapours.

A rat on a leash sniffs out landmine vapours and leads the searcher to the mine

As for non-biological detection methods, the common biological minesweeping methods are dangerous and time-consuming, because all of them require human presence. A microbial method of mine detection has the potential to be a great candidate of mine detection, as has been demonstrated by the Microbial Mine Detection System developed and patented Robert Burlage at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This system is most similar to the Mine Busters System and is described in more detail in the Whe We Differ section.


"The Canadian Landmine Foundation - La Fondation des Mines Terrestres du Canada." Web. 18 Oct. 2009. .

"How many land mines are in the world? | Smart QandA: Answers and facts you can trust, verified with" Smart QandA: Trusted answers, facts, and information verified with Web. 18 Oct. 2009. .

"Landmines - the tragic statistics." Landmine Action Week, 20-26 May 2006. Web. 18 Oct. 2009. .

"South Africa: Ban Landmines Campaign, 11/17/96." African Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania. Web. 18 Oct. 2009. .
Edinburgh University iGem Team 2009