Farmers and politicians have been trying for years to convince us that the world’s power needs could be solved using dead vegetation like corn, sugar cane and wood. Since we’re still primarily powered by coal and oil, maybe they had it wrong, right? Or maybe we should be using living cyborg plants instead. That’s what researchers in Sweden claim after creating a cyborg flower that acts like an electric circuit. Are you ready to turn your world over to half-plant, half-machine marigolds?
According to their paper published in ScienceAdvances, Professor Magnus Berggren and a team of organic electronics scientists at Linköping University built a working electronic circuit from an ordinary rose by filling its veins with a conductive polymer called PEDOT (poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene)). A living rose – minus its leaves and roots – was soaked in PEDOT for a few days until it absorbed the liquid into its vascular system. The PEDOT eventually gelled in the plant’s veins and created a network of wires.
The researchers then built a transistor out of the wire network by attaching gold electrodes to the ends and running an electrical current through it. They next created a better transistor by forcing more PEDOT into a plant’s leaves as well. When they ran a current through the leaves, the leaves changed colors.
What does it this mean? Here’s Berggren’s response:
Now we can really start talking about 'power plants' - we can place sensors in plants and use the energy formed in the chlorophyll, produce green antennas, or produce new materials. Everything occurs naturally, and we use the plants' own very advanced, unique systems.
Is the world going to be taken over by these cyborg power plants? Well, they can already talk to each other over the Internet. A project called PLEASED (PLants Employed As SEnsing Devices - now there's a scary acronym) embedded electronic devices in plants to monitor temperature, pollution levels, presence of parasites and other conditions. The plants then sent the data back to a lab via a wireless network.
So Berggren has created living cyborg plants that can produce power and build new materials, and PLEASED has given them a way to network and work together. What’s next? Are we on a slippery slope that will someday return control of the planet to plants?