A rose is a rose is a bionic fuel-cell producer

Photo: Eliot Gomes/Linköping UniversityPhoto: Eliot Gomes/Linköping University

After more than 20 years of research, scientists at Sweden’s Linköping University have managed to install electronic circuitry into a plant, creating a bionic rose.

This isn’t the first plant to receive a technological upgrade. Michael Strano, a chemical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, managed to insert carbon nanotubes in spinach chloroplasts to increase photosynthesis just last year.

What is different about the bionic rose is that it is the first plant to have all the parts of an electrical circuit present, including transistors.

The circuitry was created when Magnus Berggren, the lead scientist, submerged the cut portion of a rose stem in a solution of PEDOT, a conducting polymer which was sucked up through the vascular tissue of the plant. The polymers formed a circuit within the natural structure of the plant without disrupting the transportation of water and nutrients.

The circuity was able to regulate, sense and record the physiology of the rose, and Berggren is now investigating whether the electrical sensors could be used to engineer blooming at the best times.

The researchers were also able to fill rose leaves with a solution of PEDOT and cellulose nanofibers. When voltage was applied, the leaves were able to change colors from green to blue. These plants are still alive and the leaves have not fallen off.

Berggren believes the breakthrough will enable scientists to measure the concentration of substances in a plant, modulate internal plant functions and develop photosynthesis-based fuel cells.

Single-celled organisms have been able to be transformed into living fuel cells, but not plants. The sugars would be transformed into electricity, which Berggren likes to call “flower power,” according to Nature.com.

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