flowers Flower power! DARPA is engineering plants to be spies. Seriously.

(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

By Matt Saintsing


Most intelligence collection typically involves highly trained human agents, and state-of-the- art technologies. But now, the U.S. military has a plan to develop a secret network to help keep tabs on some of its enemies.

Oh, and it’s plants.

That’s right. Those mean, green (and leafy) lifeforms are part of a new Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plan that sounds more like science fiction than research and development. The Advanced Plant Technologies (APT) program looks to vegetation as the next generation of intelligence professionals.

Their plan is for APT is to leverage plants’ natural mechanisms for sensing and responding to physical stimulus, and to foster capabilities to detect chemicals, biological agents, radiation, and even electromagnetic pulses.

“Plants are highly attuned to their environments and naturally manifest physiological responses to basic stimuli such as light and temperature, but also in some cases to touch, chemicals, pests, and pathogens,” said DARPA Program Manager for APT, Blake Bextine, in a statement.

“Emerging molecular and modeling techniques may make it possible to reprogram these detection and reporting capabilities for a wide range of stimuli, which would not only open up new intelligence streams, but also reduce the personnel risks and costs associated with traditional sensors.”

In other words, plant spies could help keep flesh-and-blood spies out of danger.

To do this, DARPA is planning to genetically modify so that particular environmental triggers result in biological responses that can then be tracked by satellites or other existing technologies.

Rest assured, the Defense Department says that the research will be “in contained laboratory and greenhouse facilities, as well as simulated natural environments.” So, there’s minimal risk of sentient plants taking their frustrations out on us for abusing Mother Earth.

Since this program is in its infancy, don’t expect to see any super spy plants in the (literal) field anytime soon.

The agency’s Biological Technologies Office (BTO) is hosting an event for proposals on December 12, 2017. Click here to register by December 6.

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