Researchers at Linköping University have developed biosensors that can monitor the health of plants in real time. The sensors make it possible to track sugar levels deep in the plant tissues.
As the global population grows larger, climate change is forcing the world to adjust to new conditions for crop cultivation. Data from the biosensors will provide insight to support these agricultural adaptations.
Study lead author Eleni Stavrinidou is an associate professor in the Laboratory of Organic Electronics in Linköping’s Department of Science and Technology.
“We will have to secure our food supply in the coming decades. And we must do this using the same, or even fewer, resources as today. This is why it is important to understand how plants react to changes in the environment and how they adapt,” explained Professor Stavrinidou.
The biosensors are based on organic electrochemical transistors that can be implanted, and have the capacity to continuously monitor the sugar levels of trees for up to two days.
The information from the sensors will reveal new clues about plant growth and other biological processes. Sugars are important signal substances that influence how plants respond to changes in their surrounding environment.
Biosensors like glucometers are widely used for monitoring sugar levels in humans, but this is the first time the technology has been applied to plants.
“The sensors now are used for basic plant science research but in the future they can be used in agriculture to optimize the conditions for growth or to monitor the quality of the product, for example. In the long term, the sensors can also be used to guide the production of new types of plant that can grow in non-optimal conditions,” said Professor Stavrinidou.
Scientists still have a lot to learn about the mechanisms that regulate plant metabolism, as well as how changes in sugar levels affect growth. While previous studies involved detaching parts of the plant, the new biosensor can deliver valuable information about metabolic processes without damaging the plant.
“We found a variation in sugar levels in the trees that had not been previously observed. Future studies will focus on understanding how plants sugar levels change when plants are under stress,” said Professor Stavrinidou.
The study is published in the journal iScience.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer