What’s happening on the cutting edge of plant science?

Image credit nancy nismo

Robot Plants that’s what!

Latest research out of MIT Sloan has revealed the ability of nanotechnology to work in conjunction with plant molecular biology. This breakthrough science is being pioneered by the work of Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering and postdoc plant biologist Juan Pablo Giraldo.

The research team “envision turning plants into self-powered, photonic devices such as detectors for explosives or chemical weapons. The researchers are also working on incorporating electronic devices into plants. “The potential is really endless,” Strano says.”

The idea began with a project in Strano’s lab to build self-repairing solar cells modelled on plant cells. Over time it became something even more intriguing. They demonstrated the ability to turn plants into chemical sensors by delivering carbon nanotubes that detect the gas nitric oxide, an environmental pollutant produced by combustion.

Strano’s lab has previously developed carbon nanotube sensors for many different chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide, the explosive TNT, and the nerve gas sarin.

“We could someday use these carbon nanotubes to make sensors that detect in real time, at the single-particle level, free radicals or signalling molecules that are at very low-concentration and difficult to detect,” Giraldo says.

While the idea of “robot plants” might not be appealing to everyone it is certainly an exciting breakthrough in the worlds of nanotechnology and plant biology, and an interesting space to keep an eye on.

Often people become fearful of new discoveries and technological advances before taking the opportunity to understand the intent and possible implications for future development. We here at PolyGenomX have experienced this first hand when we talk to people about our cutting edge plant epigenetics technology. “So it’s GMO.” Is usually the first response to which we answer with a resounding NO!

Trying to explain to someone that we can induce biotic and abiotic stress resistance in plants without the use of genetic modification, and all its associated negative connotations, implications and press, can be a long conversation, which why we went to the lengths of getting legal confirmation.

In a recent conversation with genetic mapping researchers at QUT whilst discussing PGX’s current project of inducing inherent disease resistance in food crops, one department head described it as “being right on the cutting edge of science”, a wonderful place to be in our opinion and one that we are honoured to share with the others in this space.

A doff of the cap to you Strano & Giraldo.

For more information on their work go to http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2014/bionic-plants

For more on the work PolyGenomX is currently undertaking in disease resistance http://www.polygenomx.com/solutions/disease-resistance

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