While there have already been attempts at creating bionic plants in the past, never has it been achieved to the degree that scientists at Sweden‘s Linköping University did – the team led by Magnus Berggren from the Laboratory of Organic Electronics successfully implanted fully-functional electronic circuits in a number of roses without causing any damage to organic tissues.
The feat was accomplished by submerging the cut end of a rose stem into a solution of PEDOT, a conducting polymer that is commonly used in printable electronics, and letting it be pulled up into its vascular tissue, or xylem, through capillary action.
Once there, the polymer came out of the solution and self-assembled into wires that were then attached to individual transistors. These perform more or less on par with conventional printed PEDOT circuits.
Next, the researchers were able to send nano-cellulose fibres through the rose by employing vacuum, making its leaves change colour between bluish green hues whenever voltage is applied.
“As far as we know, there are no previously published research results regarding electronics produced in plants. No one’s done this before,” said Professor Berggren.
Despite some scepticism from other researchers who think it’s not clear whether filling up a rose’s water-transporting stem and gas-exchanging leaves with a conducting polymer would leave normal plant transpiration intact, Berggren and his colleagues are optimistic about future applications of their results.
“With integrated and distributed electronics in plants, one can envisage a range of applications including precision recording and regulation of physiology, energy harvesting from photosynthesis, and alternatives to genetic modification for plant optimization,” wrote the authors in their paper, published in Science Advances.
Although most of the initial studies were done using plant cuttings, the group also made the leaves of living plants change colour – these plants are still alive months later, and the leaves haven’t fallen off.
Berggren is now working with biologists to develop applications for monitoring plant physiology, and find out whether the PEDOT devices can be used in a system that would turn plants into living fuel cells by directly converting their sugars into electricity.