Today’s Solutions: March 01, 2024

Spinach is often touted as a superfood for its extraordinary nutritional profile. But the leafy vegetable’s abilities to impress go beyond nutrition — as recently demonstrated by MIT researchers who hacked the spinach plant to send emails.

You heard that right, in a bid to break the communication barrier between plants and humans, engineers at MIT engineered cyborg spinach plants to make them capable of sending emails when they detect explosives.

Though the cyborg spinach lacks a keyboard and a mouse, it has carbon nanotubes within its leaves that emit a fluorescent signal when the plant detects explosive compounds in water. The signal is then detected by infrared cameras which, in turn, send an email alert to the researchers.

“This is a novel demonstration of how we have overcome the plant/human communication barrier,” said Professor Michael Strano, who led the research. “Plants are very good analytical chemists. They have an extensive root network in the soil, are constantly sampling groundwater, and have a way to self-power the transport of that water up into the leaves.”

The researchers believe similar systems could one day be used to offer warnings about pollution or even climate change.

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