Flowers fabricate their own embedded electronics
The best way to make a cyborg may be to have it build itself. Organic tissue already does this, growing new structures from a seed or embryo, and scientists have now harnessed a flower’s natural growth to have it assemble an electronic circuit throughout its stem. The resulting flower was able to conduct an electric current, both through the stem and leaves, which opens the door to a whole new way to control the growth of a plant without genetic manipulation.
Pursuing plug-in plants
The road to plant-assembled circuits was a long one. Earlier experiments have tracked natural electric currents in orchids, embedding circuits in celery, and even nanomachines in chloroplasts. Finding the right formula posed many difficulties, as the plant would sometimes react to the embedded circuits as a foreign body, releasing toxins to try and kill it to the degree that the plant harmed itself. Other attempts inadvertently clogged the vascular tissue of the plant, throttling the flow of nutrients and waste.
The answer was to avoid manually embedding the circuits while using an organic polymer called PEDOT-S:H. By soaking the experimental roses in a solution with PEDOT-S:H, the flowers distributed the polymer themselves. When their stems were cut open, thin, dark “wires” could accessed. With the help of a transistor, a small circuit through the flower could be created. Self-assembling transistors are now in development, which will allow the plants to be electronically manipulated and monitored.
Who needs carrots carrying current?
While electronic roses are interesting on their own, there are concrete goals in this hunt for cybernetic plants. The growth and health of plant could be monitored to better guide their cultivation. Growth rates may be controllable, boosting or slowing a plant’s activity in reaction to external events, such as an early frost. While some of these changes could be achieved through genetic changes thanks to breeding, electronics would allow for more nimble changes in the plant’s activity without effecting future offspring. If the effects of electronic manipulation are temporary, there are concerns over the permanence of these circuits themselves. While boosting the growth of a tree meant for paper milling isn’t a big worry, at this point the polymers would need to be kept away from fruits or vegetables before anyone tries eating them.
Source: Cyborg Roses Wired with Self-Growing Circuits by Tia Ghose, Live Science