Plants can now communicate data electronically. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Krish Dulal
A recent experiment has produced spinach plants capable of sending information over a network.
The unorthodox experiment concerns a relatively niche area of technology research known as plant nanobionics which combines nanotechnology with plant biology to achieve new things.
The study, which was carried out by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), had initially focused on finding a way to use plants to detect explosives, but later evolved into using them to learn about the environment and to relay that information back to a mobile phone.
"Here, we demonstrate that living spinach plants can be engineered to serve as self-powered pre-concentrators and autosamplers of analytes in ambient groundwater and as infrared communication platforms that can send information to a smartphone," the study authors wrote.
Obviously we're not talking about having spinach plants type out an email in the conventional sense - instead the fusion of biology and nanotechnology has enabled sensory data from the spinach to be communicated in a way that can be picked up and analyzed by human scientists.
"Plants are very good analytical chemists," said study lead author Professor Michael Strano. "They have an extensive root network in the soil, are constantly sampling groundwater, and have a way to self-power the transport of that water up into the leaves."
"This is a novel demonstration of how we have overcome the plant/human communication barrier."
Perhaps in the future, plants will be used to pick up and relay all sorts of subtle information, keeping us apprised as to the state of our planet in more detail than was ever previously possible.