The Future of Biology : Sending Emails?

As advancements in technology and biology increase, communication between plants and humans can increase in ways nobody would have expected.

April 26, 2021

What if I told you spinach could send emails? It may sound absurd, but with recent advancements in technology and biology, it is now possible. Engineers from MIT gave certain spinach plants the ability to send emails when certain pollutants, more specifically nitroaromatics, are near the roots of the plants. Nitroaromatics are a type of pollutant found in land mines, which can be harmful both to the plant and the environment around it.

So how exactly does this work? It’s not like a typical email, of course. Inside the plants are extremely small carbon nanotubes, which have sensors within them that can detect the nitroaromatics mentioned above. Carbon nanotubes are microscopic tubes with diameters measured in nanometers, with single walls of carbon atoms making up the actual tube. Once the sensors detect the presence of these pollutants, an infrared signal is shot out into the sky. This signal is then read by an infrared camera, which automates an email sent to the engineers who designed this. 

This is a huge step in communication between plants and humans, and while it may not seem like much, it will free up resources previously needed to track these pollutants, and further advancement on this technology could be used to weaken the barrier in place to truly understand how plants work and how we can cultivate them better. 

Plants are perfect to detect changes as they have extensive root networks that can detect the slightest change in groundwater levels and composition. With further research and advancements in this field, called “Plant Nanobiotics”, great wealths of information would become accessible. 

These nanobiotics also have huge potential for advancements in climate change. The current sensors in spinach help detect pollutants, which could lead to steps in quickly removing said pollutants from the environment so there is minimal environmental damage. Other than just the aforementioned nitroaromatics, more pollutants could be detected and therefore removed from the environment, creating better conditions for plants to grow in, and if the root of these pollutants are found, they could be prevented from leaking into the water flow, helping prevent climate change.

This revolutionary step in communication between plants and humans has huge potential for the future of nanobiotics. Threats to the environment can be detected before they become too dangerous, and advancements can be made on environmental pathogens. While it may seem small now, it has huge implications and could greatly help scientists understand the inner workings of plants, what we didn’t already know. 

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