A team of researchers at Linköping University in Sweden has developed analog and digital electronics circuits inside a living rose, making it the world’s first cyber plant ever created. To make this cyborg rose, the team used a highly conductive polymer, known as poly (3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) – PEDOT-S for short , which runs all the way across the rose stems.
As reported in the journal Science Advances, the polymer, PEDOT-S itself gets assembled inside the xylem channels as conducting wires, while still allowing xylem to function normally. That is, the transport of water and nutrients functionalities.
Plants rely on the transport of ionic signals and hormones to regulate growth and perform necessary functions. They operate on a much slower time scale making interacting with and studying plants difficult. However, using the wires and the plant sap, which is full of ions, the researchers were able to create an electrochemical transistor, which converts ionic signals to electronic output. The transistor behaves almost as the ones found in computers and phones, reports IFLScience.
The team also infused another variant of a polymer PEDOT into the plant’s leaves using vacuum infiltration. The infused polymer formed “pixels” of electrochemical cells around the veins.
So when the team applied voltage to the infused polymer, it sent electrochemical signals through the veins which causes the polymer to interact with the ions in the leaf, and subsequently changing the color in those leaves like they were in basic display devices. Below is an illustration of the electronically-augmented rose.
“As far as we know, there are no previously published research results regarding electronics produced in plants. No one’s done this before,” says Professor Berggren, the lead author of the study.
“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.”
Professor Magnus Berggren believes that electronically augmented plants, like the cyborg rose they developed, could provide a great insight in understanding plants better. Also with this technology, they could eventually develop new applications for organic electronics and new tools in plant science in the future.
“Previously, we had no good tools for measuring the concentration of various molecules in living plants. Now we will be able to influence the concentration of the various substances in the plant that regulate growth and development. Here, I see great possibilities for learning more,” says Ove Nilsson, the study’s co-author.