It might seem like it’s part of a futuristic science fiction movie, but scientists have managed to engineering Spinach plants capable of sending emails through nanotechnology.
And engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have transformed spinach into sensors capable of detecting explosive materials, and then these plants are able to transmit this information wirelessly to scientists.
And when spinach roots detects nitrooromatic presence in groundwater, a compound often found in explosives, such as landmines, the carbon nanotubes inside plant leaves send a signal.
The signal is read by an infrared camera and an email alert is sent to the scientists.
This experiment is part of a wider field of research that includes engineering electronic components and systems in plants, and this technique is known as nanoscale botany, and it is an effective process to give plants new capabilities.
“Plants are good analytical chemists,” explains Professor Michael Strano, who led the research.
And he adds: Plants have an extensive root network in the soil, they take samples of groundwater constantly, and they have an autonomous method to transfer that water to the leaves, andThis is a new demonstration of how we overcome the communication barrier between plants and humans.
While the purpose of this experiment was to detect explosives, Strano and other scientists believe it could be used to help warn researchers about pollution and other environmental conditions.
Given the vast amount of data that plants absorb from their surroundings, it is in an ideal location to monitor environmental changes.
In the early stages of nanoplant research, Strano used nanoparticles to turn plants into sensors for pollutants.
By changing the way plants’ photosynthesis, he was able to make them detect nitric oxide, a combustion pollutant.
Plants are very responsive to the environment, says Strano, and they know there will be drought long before they occur, and they can detect small changes in potential soil and water properties, and if we take advantage of these chemical signaling pathways, there is a wealth of information to access.
And when the spinach isn’t busy emailing researchers, it also appears to hold the key to operating the fuel cell efficiently.
Scientists from the American University found that when spinach is converted into carbon nanosheets, it can act as a catalyst to help make metallic air batteries and fuel cells more efficient.
Professor Shouzhong Zou, who led the paper, explains: This work indicates that sustainable catalysts for the oxygen-reducing reaction can be made from natural resources.
Such batteries are a more energy-efficient alternative to lithium-ion batteries, which are commonly found in commercial products, such as smartphones.
Spinach was chosen precisely because of the abundance of iron and nitrogen, two important components of the compounds that act as catalysts.
Researchers had to wash, squeeze, grind, and convert the spinach into a powder, converting it from its edible form into nanoscale plates suitable for the process.
“The method we tested could produce highly active carbon-based catalysts from spinach, which is a renewable biomass, and we believe it outperforms commercial platinum catalysts in both activity and stability,” says Zou.