US researchers claim to have transformed spinach plants into sensors that can alert in the event of pollution of groundwater. The plants then change color and an infrared camera can spot this change. It then triggers the sending of an alert e-mail to researchers.
Prevent soil pollution with spinach
Spinach is a vegetable plant with interesting nutritional properties. It also has a reputation for making humans stronger. However, this plant cultivated in all temperate regions has found a use as surprising as it is useful. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) indeed use connected spinach plants. In 2017, scientists had already delivered a first report on this research in the journal Materials from nature. Initially, it was a question of inserting carbon nanotubes in the leaves to detect the presence of explosives in the ground. In other words, the plants acted as sensors.
Today, scientists are witnessing an important advance in their work. Indeed, spinach plants are now capable of prevent soil pollution. As works manager Michael Strano reminds us, the plants are more sensitive to their environment than humans. Also, they are here “programmed” to detect small changes in soil properties, as well as in water potential.
…but not only !
As part of their experiment, the researchers gave the ability to carbon nanotubes in plants to emit a fluorescent signal in the presence of nitrogen monoxide (NO). Remember that this is an industrial pollutant that is dangerous for the environment and human health. However, the fluorescent signal can be detected by infrared cameras. The latter then triggering sending an alert email to researchers. For scientists, this experiment is further proof that the communication barrier between plants and humans is being reduced. Ultimately, the spinach plants could be used to warn about the pollution of groundwater. This could possibly also be used to prevent drought episodes and therefore provide information on climate change.
It should be noted that spinach is sometimes the subject of research and technological innovation. In 2017, for example, American researchers said they were working on the development of a cardiac patch based on spinach leaves. According to these researchers, the structure of the spinach leaf allows, thanks to its small veins, to circulate the blood by mimicking heart tissue.