A Conversation With Spinach

Some people claim to be able to talk to animals (or at least communicate with them), but talking to a plant?

There may now be a way to break through the human-plant communication barrier.  A team of scientists has embedded living spinach plants with carbon nanotubes designed to detect the kinds of compounds found in bombs.  That’s quite a feat in itself, but how do you get the plant to tell you when it’s found something?  The team solved that by embedding the spinach with nanoparticles that emit an infrared signal in the presence of explosive compounds.  In other words, if the plant is fluorescing, it’s found something.

This technology could also be used for less-dramatic applications, like detecting small changes in soil properties.  The science gets pretty technical, but the team’s work is explained in a  paper published recently in Nature Materials (http://www.nature.com/nmat/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nmat4771.html).  And the team’s leader,  Michael Strano of MIT, discusses their work in a Science Friday podcast entitled “No Nose, But a Heck of a Sniffer”:  http://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/no-nose-but-a-heck-of-a-sniffer/

Isn’t it amazing what can be done these days?


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