Scientists have created the world’s first ever cyborg rose, an achievement which is bound to revolutionize the way plants are grown and used by humans.
As detailed in a study published on Friday, November 20, in the journal Science Advances, the ground-breaking flower bloomed within the confines of the Laboratory of Organic Electronics (LOE) at Linköping University, in Sweden.
It was developed by a team of researchers led by Magnus Berggren, professor of Organic Electronics at Linköping University, and director of the Strategic Center for Organic Bioelectronics.
For around a quarter of a decade, scientists had been seeking a technique to incorporate electronic devices into plants, and their efforts received the driving force they required, when the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation provided them with material support back in 2012.
The rose is actually a hybrid, which combines natural and artificial, man-made components. Electronic circuits intertwine with the plant’s own vascular tissues, xylem and phloem.
While xylem is responsible for storing and transporting water and other water-soluble sources of nutrition, phloem carries other organic molecules, such as protein and sugar.
By aiding the plant’s natural processes electronically, researchers can speed up the growth process and greatly improve photosynthesis.
This is achieved thanks to PEDOT, a conjugated, positively charged polymer based on polythiophene. The compound is capable of conducting electricity, and some of its advantages include high stability and transparency.
When placing the rose’s stem in a PEDOT derivative solution known as PEDOT-S:H, this causes electronic charges to appear along the vascular tissues, taking the shape of a “wire” which can speed up the electrolytes which are normally found within the plant.
In addition, vacuum infiltration by soaking the leaves in another compound called PEDOT:PSS-NFC allows them to carry electric charges, and to switch color under the effect of different voltages.
This way the cyborg rose can indeed maintain a constant and stable flow of electric current, even for longer lengths of time, without experiencing any difficulty transporting its essential water and nutrients.
Moreover, it appears that this awe-inspiring metamorphosis into an electronic circuit isn’t actually harmful to the plant, which can bloom just as much, and have a similar lifespan to that of an ordinary rose.
It is hoped that incorporating this highly innovative technique within living plants will allow experts to gain deeper knowledge of how energy is maintained and transported.
In fact, it might also be possible in the future to closely monitor plant functions, as well as various nutrient concentrations. This would permit correcting potential deficits, in order to assist the plant’s growth and evolution, while accelerating natural processes.
It would also be much easier to measure changes in the environment, so that optimal amounts of energy and water can be transmitted.
This way, farmers might be able to maximize crop efficiency and production, which could cause agriculture to progress at an unprecedented pace.
Another application might be in the renewable energy sector, by creating fuel cells using plants that transform sugar resulting from photosynthesis into electricity.
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