Scientists have developed a bionic plant — one filled with electronic circuitry. The idea is to create a smarter breed of plant, one that can respond to changes in its environment and let farmers know how it's holding up. Internal circuitry could even allow a plant to boost its growing or bloom on command.
For now, the work published in Science Advances is just a proof of concept. But the scientists behind the study want to work on a whole fleet of electronic greens.
Researchers in Sweden created these powered flowers by flooding the roses' systems with a synthetic polymer called PEDOT-S. The flowers were able to take the polymer in through their stems as if it was nutrient-bearing water.
Once inside the flower's xylem, the PEDOT-S assembled into conductive wires up to 10 centimeters long.
Then the researchers could harness the plant's own electrolytes — nutrient minerals that carry an electric charge — to create working circuits. In the future, the study authors said, this method could be used to create circuitry for everything from monitoring plants to making changes that would otherwise require genetic engineering. If we could show that the circuits didn't make their way into harvested portions of edible plants, we could even create food that used electronics and genetically modified components to make resilient, bountiful food crops.
"Now we can really start talking about 'power plants' — we can place sensors in plants and use the energy formed in the chlorophyll, produce green antennas, or produce new materials. Everything occurs naturally, and we use the plants' own very advanced, unique systems," lead researcher Magnus Berggren of Linkoping Unversity said in a statement.
But other scientists were a little skeptical of any useful applications for the research.
"It seems cool, but I am not sure exactly what the implication is. But that is science and scientific curiosity, I guess,” Stanford University's Zhenan Bao, who works with organic electronics, told Nature Magazine.
Furthermore, most of the experiments with stems were done using plant cuttings, so it's not clear how long the bionic flowers would be able to bloom with their electronic components in tow. But in another experiment, the researchers used a different technique to squeeze some PEDOT-S into the leaves of whole roses. They used the polymer to form living pixels, allowing them to subtly change the color of the leaves at will.
Those leaves, at least, have yet to wilt — so there may be hope for green cyborgs yet.