Today’s Solutions: December 11, 2023

Scientists at the Swiss deep tech company Vivent have created technology that allows us to know exactly what our plants need.

Before this, farmers have relied on secondary indicators for finding problems with their crops, looking, for example, for signs of drought by checking out their roots. But by tapping into the electrical signals that plants relay from their roots, a new technology called PhytlSigns is now giving farmers the ability to understand when their crops need water or nutrients.

Plants may not be very vocal, but they communicate quite a bit. When under stress from hunger, thirst, or insect attacks, they send signals about that stress between cells. That’s why the scientists at Vivent developed electrophysiological technology combined with custom-built algorithms that can decipher stress signals given off by plants.

Like a human on an ECG machine, Vivent can physically hook up plants to electrodes and make it possible to remotely view up-to-date information about a particular crop. As reported by Fast Company, Vivent already has an agrochemical company as a client that uses the PhytlSigns technology to monitor fungal stressors. The technology proved itself very valuable when it alerted the company that plants were still sending distressed signals even after it looked like the fungus had cleared from the plants.

Another client was able to more accurately identify when parasitic eelworms, or nematodes, were infesting and attacking plants, thanks to an algorithm built for nematode stress.

“They can see, in real-time, something happening in the soil that we’ve never been able to see before,” says Carrol Plummer, co-founder, and CEO of PhytlSigns.

For farmers, this technology could be incredibly important considering that 40 percent of crops today are lost in the field even before the harvest. With PhytlSigns, it is not only possible to monitor the health of crops but to also build automated systems around crops that cater to their exact needs. Think self-watering plants.

At the moment, the company is only working with indoor plants where conditions are under control, but in the near future, PhytlSigns hopes to expand its work to outdoor plants such as olives and almonds to conserve water in drought-prone areas. “Next summer I actually hope to have sensors on the almond trees in California,” said Carrol Plummer, co-founder, and CEO of PhytlSigns.

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