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A corn plant springs up from the soil.

Traditionally, most spying and intelligence gathering has been done by highly trained human operatives. But the US military has a plan to enlist a smart network of plants to help it stay one step ahead of its enemies.

These flora won't be sneaking into secret labs or engaging in close combat, but will be used to monitor the environment for chemical attacks or even electromagnetic pulses, says the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The program is called Advanced Plant Technologies or APT, and while it's only just being launched, eventually DARPA is hoping to create a self-sustaining network of plants that can be monitored remotely for any signs of environmental shift.

"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," says DARPA's Blake Bextine.

"Emerging molecular and modelling 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,...