MIT engineers are developing a new system for monitoring planting distress with microscopic nanotubes
Plants also feel pain! MIT chemical engineers are developing a system to monitor when plants are upset by embedding microscopic nanotubes into their leaves
- Chemical engineers tested a monitoring system for damaged plant cells
- They inject microscopic nanotubes into cells and measure hydrogen peroxide
- Plant cells release hydrogen peroxide as part of a natural damage response
- The technology can be used in conjunction with a smartphone system that warns farmers if certain crops are damaged
MIT engineers have developed a new system to monitor plants for signs of distress or physical damage.
The project, led by chemical technology professor Michael Strano, involves injecting microscopic nanotubes directly into plant cells to check for hydrogen peroxide, which is released by many plants after experiencing suffering or damage.
When they detect hydrogen peroxide, the nanotubes emit a fluorescent signal that can be detected by infrared cameras connected to a simple $ 35 Raspberry Pi computer system.
A team of chemical engineers at MIT has developed a system for monitoring plant cells to detect damage based on the embedding of microscopic nanotubes into plant cells. The nanotubes emit a fluorescent signal when the hydrogen peroxide level rises, indicating damage
The technology can be helpful in helping farmers track their crops and send them smartphone alerts if damage or other unusual activities occur that they might not otherwise be able to absorb.
So far, Strano and his team have tested the technology on eight plant species, including spinach, strawberry plants and arugula.
“Plants have a very advanced form of internal communication, which we can now observe for the first time,” said Strano MIT News.
“That means we can see the response of a living plant in real time, by communicating the specific type of stress it is experiencing.”
The idea for the project accidentally ended up with Strano. He had tried to use a process called lipid exchange envelope penetration (LEEP) to embed nanoparticles in plant cells and accidentally damage one of his test plants.
The team has so far tested nanotube technology on eight different plant species, including spinach, arugula and strawberry plants
Strano noticed an increase in hydrogen peroxide around the damaged area of the cells and decided to investigate the role of the compound in plants.
Plant cells release hydrogen peroxide after damage, causing nearby cells to produce calcium.
That calcium, in turn, causes more hydrogen peroxide to be produced, which spreads through the plant in a wave-like pattern.
“Like dominoes that fall in succession, it causes a wave that can propagate much further than just a puff of hydrogen peroxide,” says Strano.
“The wave itself is powered by the cells that receive and disperse it.”
Previous research has found that plants emit sound waves after they are damaged, but the new nanotube approach allows researchers to specifically identify damaged areas and measure chemical response
As hydrogen peroxide passes through the plant, it generates small metabolites called flavonoids and carotenoids, which help repair damaged cells.
Previous research has shown that plants respond to damage by delivering ultrasonic sound waves, typically between 20 and 100 kilohertz.
Strano’s approach to monitoring offers the advantage of being able to identify specific damage areas and monitor the specific chemical reaction.
“This waveform contains a lot of information for each species, and what’s even more exciting is that the stress type on a particular plant is encoded in this waveform,” says Strano.
“You can look at the real-time response a plant experiences in almost any new environment.”
Another benefit is that it seems to work with a wide variety of plant species, which can help in future research on how different plants respond to different forms of damage or distress.
“One of the things I want to do is understand why some plant species exhibit certain immunity to these pathogens and others don’t,” Strano said.
HOW DO PLANTS FEEL ‘PAIN’?
When an insect bites a plant leaf, the wound causes the release of calcium.
This causes a chain reaction in the cells along the leaves and stem of the plant.
It takes about one to two minutes for the reaction to reach every part of the plant.
The calcium generates a hormonal response from the plant to protect the leaves.
Some plants release harmful chemicals that make it taste bad for other invading insects.
Others, such as grass, release hormones that attract nearby parasitic wasp, which eat the attacking insects.