Scientists Have Taught Spinach to Send Emails When They Detect Landmines

Scientists have managed to engineer spinach plants to send emails when they detect explosive materials – and social media is delighted.

Euronews picked up its trowel and dug through a Nature journal entry to provide details of the nanotechnology that has been used to transform wild-type plants, such as spinach, into infrared communication platforms capable of sending information to computers and smartphones through a process of sensor detection and wireless relay.

MIT engineers experimented within a niche field of science known as “plant nanobionics” and discovered that, per the report, spinach roots can “detect the presence of nitroaromatics in groundwater, a compound often found in explosives like landmines, the carbon nanotubes within the plant leaves emit a signal.” This signal can then be picked up by an infrared camera, sending an email to alert scientists.

“Plants are very good analytical chemists. They have an extensive root network in the soil, are constantly sampling groundwater, and have a way to self-power the transport of that water up into the leaves,” Professor Michael Strano, who led the research, explained to the outlet. “This is a novel demonstration of how we have overcome the plant/human communication barrier.”

Initially, the research was conducted to understand whether wild-type plants could be bioengineered to detect explosive materials, however, scientists now believe that the nanotech could be stretched further afield, whilst still remaining in the field, to engineer plants to warn researchers about pollution and other potential environmental issues.

The experiment findings were published in 2016 but the research recently resurfaced in headlines, sparking interest amongst social media users who immediately got the topic trending on Twitter.

For more technological developments and real-world discoveries, read about a new “cyborg” technology that is now one step closer to becoming a reality, find out more about Microsoft’s patent filing to create chatbots that imitate dead people, and then check out this study about how brains process visual communication in films.


Adele Ankers is a Freelance Entertainment Journalist. You can reach her on Twitter.

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