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Nanocsöves növényi stressz érzékelő

Plant stress sensor nanosensor

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Engineers at MIT are using sensors made from carbon nanotubes to closely monitor how plants respond to stress.

Engineers at MIT have developed a method to monitor how plants respond to stresses such as injury, infection and light damage using sensors made from carbon nanotubes. These sensors can be embedded in the leaves of the plant, where they report on hydrogen peroxide signaling waves.

The sensors distinguish between different types of stress

Plants use hydrogen peroxide to communicate within leaves, sending an emergency signal that stimulates leaf cells to produce compounds that help them repair damage or protect themselves from predators such as insects. The new sensors can use these hydrogen peroxide signals to distinguish between different types of stress and different plant species.

“Plants have a very sophisticated form of internal communication that we can observe for the first time. This means we can see in real time the response of a living plant and communicate the type of stress it is experiencing, “said Michael Strano, Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

New strategies to improve crop yields

This type of sensor could be used to study how plants respond to various stresses, potentially helping agricultural scientists develop new strategies to improve crop yields. The researchers have demonstrated their approach in eight different plant species, and believe it could work in many more.

The researchers tried strawberries, spinach, lettuce, water horseradish and sorrel and found that different species produced different waveforms – the distinguishing shape being created by mapping hydrogen peroxide concentrations over time. They hypothesise that the response of each plant depends on its ability to counteract the damage. Each species appears to respond differently to different types of stress, including mechanical damage, infection, and heat or light damage.

“This waveform contains a lot of information about each species, and what’s even more exciting is that the type of stress specific to a particular plant is encoded in this waveform,” says Strano. “We can look at the real-time response that a plant experiences in almost any new environment.”

Chemical engineers at MIT have designed a sensor that can be embedded in plant leaves and measure hydrogen peroxide levels, which indicate that damage has occurred. This signal could be sent to a nearby smartphone.