Plants could soon communicate with farmers to improve food security

We recently wrote about how researchers at MIT were teaching spinach plants to send emails. Now, scientists from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore are developing technology that allows for further communication between plants and humans.

When plants interact with their environment, they emit electrical signals. Nanyang Tech’s research team created a device that can deliver these electrical signals to and from plants, allowing a path for communication. The hairy and bumpy surface of the plant is difficult for electrodes to adhere to, so the team designed a gel-like “morphable” electrode that easily attaches itself to vegetation.

Once it is attached to the plant, the morphable electrode device relays the electrical signals the plant emits as it responds to its environment. The team first tested this process on a Venus flytrap and was successful in understanding the plant’s signals. Then, they went one step further by establishing clear communication, getting the plant to close its leaves on demand by pulsing a specific frequency to the plant through the attached electrode.

Researchers hope that crop monitoring devices like these could one day help combat the rising concern of climate change-induced food insecurity. Farmers could be made aware of abnormalities within their crop by monitoring irregularities in electrical signals. This could help maximize yields by allowing farmers to react to diseases before plants even display visible symptoms.

With more research, this technology could be also applied in robotics, allowing scientists to design plant-based robots that could handle more delicate and fragile operations.

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