A team of scientists at Linköping University in Sweden have developed the first electrically augmented plant, creating both analog and digital circuits inside a living rose. This technology could allow scientists to regulate growth and chemical processes in plants, as well as harness photosynthesis to create new solar cells.
The Swedish group added a polymer inside the rose’s natural system of vessels and its leaves, and they were able to show it's possible to create electrical components that resemble wires, transistors, and even display elements.
The team used a highly conductive polymer, called PEDOT-S, to form wires within the interior of the xylem, the tissue that carries water around the plant. The wires were assembled by exposing rose cuttings to a solution of the polymer, which spread evenly throughout the plant, coating the xylem and forming conductive structures longer than 5 centimeters (2 inches). Because the polymer did not completely fill the xylem, the ability of the plant to carry water and nutrients around was not limited.
Plant sap is full of ions (charged molecules) that are used by plants to regulate growth and transport energy. Using the wires and the sap, they were able to create an electrochemical transistor, turning the ionic signals to an electronic output. These transistors behaved almost exactly like the ones found in computers and phones.
The scientists also infused the plant's leaves with a different polymer, another member of the PEDOT family, which created “pixels” around the rose’s veins. By sending electrochemical signals through the veins, they were able to activate those pixels, changing the color in those leaves like they were simple displays, switching between light and dark green.
Professor Magnus Berggren, leader of the group that developed this technology, believes that electronically enhanced plants could have a huge impact in nderstanding plants better as well as developing integrated technologies such as photosynthesis-based fuel cells, bio-sensors, growth regulators and devices that can control the inner functions of plants.
"Extending from our present achievements, I would find the combination of sensors and delivery devices for plant hormones being the prime consequence: we can sense and record chemical signal patterns inside the plant and then regulate the physiology to for instance affect the overall growth, flowering, etc. of the plant," Professor Berggren told IFLScience. He stresses that this could create a new field of research, as to his knowledge this is the first time such a feat has been achieved. The research is published in Science Advances.