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Cyborg plants

Veggies of the future: How cyborg plants could help us monitor our world

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: cyborg plants, environmental monitoring, precision agriculture

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(NaturalNews) Could plants actually communicate with us in a way that lets us know how to take better care of them? Yes, say scientists and researchers, and in fact, the day is not far off.

According to Wired, there is a time coming in the near future when we could possibly see cyborg plants that are able to inform us of when they need more water, what chemicals they have been exposed to and what parasites may be nibbling at their roots. These partially organic, partially electronic plants could even alert us to how much air pollution is about.

Oh, and they will, of course, be capable of plugging into our networks, like an "Internet of Plants," Wired reported, adding:

That's the message from Andrea Vitaletti, the head of a blue-sky research group working on this very thing at a lab in Italy. The project is called PLEASED, short for "PLants Employed As SEnsing Devices." Though the project is still in the early stages, Vitaletti believes plants could serve as ideal sensors, monitoring so many aspects of our environment. Plants are cheap and resilient, he argues, and they could potentially monitor many different things simultaneously.

Vitaletti notes further: "Plants have millions of years of evolution. They are robust. They want to survive."

'The fundamental notion is plants could be used as low cost, sustainable sensors'

The scientist has said that his interest in merging plants and electronics goes all the way back to his childhood. He and his father used schematics that they discovered in an electronics magazine to build a simple circuit for sound generation from plants.

Later, Vitaletti would seek a computer engineering degree at the University of Rome; there, he focused on algorithms for wireless networks and sensors. However, his "Internet of Plants" notion did not fully develop until he found a TED talk on plant intelligence.

Soon thereafter, Vitalietti contacted the author of the TED talk, Stefano Mancuso of the University of Florence, and the idea that plants could be utilized as sensors took off. That led to PLEASED, a project spanning a number of operations. Those range from Vitaletti's company, W-LAB, and hardware firm Advanticsys, to the University of Southampton in Britain, the University of Florence and the London Institute for Mathematical Sciences. The project has been funded by the European Commission.

As further reported by Wired:

The fundamental notion is plants could be used as low cost, sustainable sensors for monitoring environmental factors like soil quality and air pollution. Vitaletti and other scientists already are working to connect various species with Arduino circuit boards that can record and transmit information. Eventually, these cyborg plants could detect parasites and pollutants in crops, or they could play a role in what's called precision agriculture, telling farmers when they need more water or more nutrients - or less. More broadly, they could monitor the effects of acid rain in the environment or the health of city parks.

'There's evidence plants react'

Currently, there are a wide range of sensors that can detect environmental elements like temperature, humidity and so forth. And so far even Vitaletti notes that they are much more accurate than what plants are currently capable of doing. However, he thinks that plants - with their hearty and multi-faceted nature - eventually could take measuring environmental factors to the next level.

Researchers know, for instance, that plants - like the human brain - respond to electrical signals. And there are tools to monitor electrical brain activity. In fact, there are even tools that allow persons to control video games and robotic arms with brain waves.

But plant signaling is far less understood, say researchers.

"There's evidence that plants react to damages, parasites, pollutants, chemicals, acids and high temperature," Vitaletti says. "But what's not known is whether it's possible to look into the signal and see what generated the event."





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