Scientists Create Electronic Plants

IAS Prelims 2023

Researchers in Sweden have created (Electronic Plants) analog and digital electronics circuits inside living plants. They have used the vascular system of living roses to build key components of electronic circuits.

Electronic Plants Experiment demonstrates wires, digital logic, and even displays elements — fabricated inside the plants — that could develop new applications for organic electronics and new tools in plant science.

The team tried many attempts of introducing conductive polymers through rose stems. Only one polymer, called PEDOT-S, successfully assembled itself inside the xylem channels as conducting wires, while still allowing the transport of water and nutrients.

Dr. Eleni Stavrinidou used the material to create long (10 cm) wires in the xylem channels of the rose. By combining the wires with the electrolyte that surrounds these channels she was able to create an electrochemical transistor, a transistor that converts ionic signals to electronic output. Using the xylem transistors she also demonstrated digital logic gate function.

Dr. Eliot Gomez used methods common in plant biology — vacuum infiltration — to infuse another PEDOT variant into the leaves. The infused polymer formed “pixels” of electrochemical cells partitioned by the veins.

Applied voltage caused the polymer to interact with the ions in the leaf, subsequently changing the color of the PEDOT in a display-like device — functioning similarly to the roll-printed displays manufactured at Acreo Swedish ICT in Norrköping.

These results are early steps to merge the diverse fields of organic electronics and plant science. The aim is to develop applications for energy, environmental sustainability, and new ways of interacting with plants.

Electronic Plants would make it possible to combine electric signals with the plant’s own chemical processes.