Scientists inserted electronic circuits into plants, opening up new possibilities to understand them.
At first this sounds like a crazy idea. Scientists enhance a plant with electronics circuits. There of many efforts underway to enhance humans with chips, what benefit could this bring to plants?
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“Previously, we had no good tools for measuring the concentration of various molecules in living plants. Now we’ll be able to influence the concentration of the various substances in the plant that regulate growth and development. Here, I see great possibilities for learning more,” says Ove Nilsson, professor of plant reproduction biology at the Umeå Plant Science Center and co-author of the article.
Apparently plants work not that differently from digital electronics. Traditional electronics send and process electronic signals, while plants transport and handle ions and growth hormones. In organic electronics, based on semi-conductive polymers, both ions and electrons can serve as signal carriers. With the help of organic electronics it therefore becomes possible to combine electric signals with the plant’s own, as if translating the plant’s signals into traditional electronics.
With inexpensive organic electronics integrated into plants, a long range of possibilities opens up – such as utilizing energy from photosynthesis in a fuel cell, or reading and regulating the growth and other inner functions of plants.
“Now we can really start talking about ‘power plants’ – we can place sensors in plants and use the energy formed in the chlorophyll, produce green antennas or produce new materials. Everything occurs naturally, and we use the plants’ own very advanced, unique systems,” he says.
“As far as we know, there are no previously published research results regarding electronics produced in plants. No one’s done this before,” Professor Berggren states.
These are the mad scientists that make cyborg plants.
The research group at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics,
from the left Daniel Simon, Roger Gabrielsson, Eleni Stavrinidou,
Eliot Gomez and Magnus Berggren. Xavier Crispin is missing.
Besides big ideas like harvesting energy directly from plants, the researchers also could create electrochromatic plants in which the leaves change color. Plants tend to do that already own their own.
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The article "Electronic Plants," authored by Eleni Stavrinidou, Roger Gabrielsson, Eliot Gomez, Xavier Crispin, Ove Nilsson, Daniel T Simon and Magnus Berggren has been published in Science Advances.