Power to the Plants

Researchers have discovered a method of integrating electric circuits into living plants.

The Rosa floribunda, also known as garden rose, is one of the most popular flowers in the world. Its delicate beauty not only enhances every place it is planted in, it is also a guarantee to bring a smile to any face when gifted. A rose never needed some kind of usability because it is just fine as it is. “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”, as it was said by Gertrude Stein.

Nevertheless, scientists from the Linköping University in Sweden have experimented with this particular flower and found a technique that may change the way we look at and use plants in the future. For the first time ever, the biologists have successfully merged the inner structures of flowers with electronics. This could open up new ways of interacting with and utilizing plants.

Just like any other organic life form, plants use chemical signals to regulate their body functions and their growth. Their structures of transmitting energy and information can be compared to the workings of electronic circuits. Mechanical wires that are used to let electricity flow from one point to another work analogous to the vascular system of a plant’s roots, stem and leaves.

The scientists were able to integrate an artificial structure into plants that makes it possible to transmit electric signals. They did this by feeding their garden rose a soluble polymer, a chain of molecules that is able to conduct electricity. The rose took up this polymer just like it would take up the colour in dyed water. With help of its own ions, the plant then created a sort of wire system within its body.

The discovery of this method makes it possible to work with plants like they were electronic devices. Sensors could be built into them, giving us information about its physiology in great detail. It would also be possible to optimize plants other than with genetics and to harvest the energy created by photosynthesis. Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is an electric generator?

Further information: advances.sciencemag.org

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