Beacon Transcript – Scientists have come up with a new, unexpected use for spinach as the plant will now be capable of sniffing chemicals and come as an alert system for dangerous substances.
The recent sniffing chemicals spinach abilities were illustrated in a paper published on November First in the Nature Materials.
The resulting plants were the result of a team MIT scientists’ experiments which sought to embed the spinach’s leaves with carbon nanotubes and come to work as a natural alarm system.
The study, led by Michael Strano, a chemical engineering professor, and Min Hao Wong, an MIT graduate student featured the use of the “vascular infusion” technique.
The plants were embedded with carbon nanotubes using the aforementioned technique which allows the scientists to apply the nanotubes on the underside of the spinach’s leaves. From there, the plant will naturally absorb them into its system, and more exactly its fibers.
The process is quite a breakthrough as this is amongst the first experiments to feature the use of the technique on living plants.
The current study, together with the few other similar types of research belong to plant nanobionics, a newly emerging scientific field.
As the spinach plants successfully absorbed the carbon tubes, they became able of sniffing chemicals and emitting an alarm when a specific substance was detected.
This specific harvest received nanotubes programmed so as to emit a fluorescent light when the chemical class known as nitroaromatics was detected in the water with which they were fed.
Nitroaromatics are chemicals which can be found in explosives. The fluorescent lights emitted by the plants after sniffing chemicals can be read by a computer connected to infrared reading camera able to perceive and further transmit the gathered data.
The signals such detected would be received by an electronic device which would notify humans of the presence of the respective chemical substance.
According to study leader Strano, plants have an extensive root network which allows them to constantly sustain themselves through the groundwater that is then absorbed by their leaves.
As the plants are very responsive to their environment, they could also potentially account for a very effective natural analysts due to their new ability of sniffing chemicals.
Strano, together with another MIT post doctorate, Juan Pablo Giraldo, managed some two years ago to strengthen the photosynthesis abilities of their test plants. This enabled the respective thale cress’s sniffing chemicals such as nitric oxide, hydrogen peroxide, and the sarin nerve gas.
As the latest study showed that the nanotube-based abilities could extend to other plants, who knows if our future garden plants won’t be able of sniffing chemicals and alerting us to their presence.
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