"Light-up plants and email from spinach", lab turns over a new leaf on flora

Glowing trees that can replace street lights and spinach that can send out emails to warn of approaching danger sounds like the stuff of fantasy.

But a laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is pioneering what its lead scientist Prof. Michael Strano has named plant nanobionics, is bringing these things closer to reality.

Rather than tampering with genes to get plants to do certain things, plant nanobionics inserts miniscule pieces of machinery into them — tiny engineered particles that can access a plant’s cells and even subcellular structures, such as chloroplasts.

Scientists have known for some time that plants communicate with one another and with the outside world, but Strano’s research opens the door for humans to hack into the signals a plant sends itself, getting the plant to report what is happening — via email.

“The plant is exquisitely sensitive to everything; for example, heat stress. It knows when there’s going to be drought before humans. It senses insect bites,” Strano told The Times of Israel in a Zoom interview.

In 2016, Strano’s lab published research showing that nanobionics could be used to tap into a plant’s super-sensitive detection capabilities, giving farmers and others access to the plant’s diagnostic tools.

Because they are not independently mobile, plants have developed an extraordinary set of skills to monitor and act upon the minutest of changes in their environment.

Read the complete article at www.timesofisrael.com.


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