Bionic plants 'watered' with carbon nanotubes turn into super-charged fauna

'Watering' plants with dilution of carbon nanotubes boosted photosynthesis by 30 per cent and create a living gas detector - scientists say this is just the start

Scientists in the US have created the world’s first bionic plants, infusing test subjects with carbon nanotubes on a cellular level to improve photosynthesis and add new functionality, even managing to turn one plant into a chemical detector.

The team of biochemists and chemical engineers from MIT announced their work in the journal Nature Materials earlier this week, dubbing the new field of research “plant nanobionics”. Researchers hinted that in future their work could add even more ‘exotic’ abilities to plants; from boosting mobile phone signals to acting as living streetlamps.

“Plants are very attractive as a technology platform,” says Michael Strano, a Professor of Chemical Engineering and leader of the research team. “They repair themselves, they’re environmentally stable outside, they survive in harsh environments, and they provide their own power source and water distribution.”

The team applied a dilution of carbon nanotubes directly to the underside of the leaves of an Arabidopsis thaliana (a popular ‘model organism’ in biology selected for its relatively small genome), which the plant sucked up via vascular infusion – the ‘breathing’ process by which plants absorb carbon dioxide and expel oxygen.

Through this naturally occurring mechanism the nanotubes found their way to the plant’s chloroplasts – the specialized cell that conducts photosynthesis, using chlorophyll to capture and store the energy from sunlight.

Near infrared fluorescence of carbon nanotubes (orange) infiltrated inside leaves (green) could boost photosynthesis and enable the detection of biochemicals and pollutants. Credit: Juan Pablo Giraldo and Nicole M. Iverson

The scientists found that the plants that had been treated with the dilution in this way produced 30 per cent more energy than normal. The scientists predict that by altering the diameter of the nanotubes they could even capture wavelengths of light that plants currently can’t use, such as green light (plants are green because they reflect rather than absorb green light) and ultraviolet.

A second dilution of carbon nanotubes that had been treated to detect the gas nitric oxide (an environmental pollutant produced by combustion) was just as easily incorporated into the body of plants. Strano says that when the plant senses gas it emits “a near-infrared light signal, like in a TV remote control, that can be read by an external detector.”

Different varieties of nanotubes could be used to detect different gases, with the paper’s lead author, biologist Juan Pablo Giraldo, envisioning plants that operate as self-powered devices that work as detectors for explosives in airports.

The scientists have not yet had a chance to study the long-term effects of the nanotubes on the plants, but the preliminary results suggest the plants are just as healthy as before – and the boost to photosynthesis might even make them stronger. The team is also working on incorporating electronic nanomaterials such as grapheme into plants.

"Right now, almost no one is working in this emerging field," says Giraldo. "It's an opportunity for people from plant biology and the chemical engineering nanotechnology community to work together in an area that has a large potential."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
fashion
News
news
News
people
Travel
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Web Application Support Manager

    £60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

    C# asp.net Developer - West Sussex - permanent - £40k - £50k

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

    SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

    £30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

    Project Manager (infrastructure, upgrades, rollouts)

    £38000 - £45000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments