Mar 02, 2017 I Brett Tingley

Working “Cyborg Roses” and the Rise of Biohybrid ePlants

One of the strangest areas of research in medical technology is the development of so-called “biohybrids.” Engineers have begun finding ways to combine living tissues with electronics in order to create true cyborgs - at least in animal form. Since these hybrid organisms are able to interact with the natural world in a much more efficient way, owing to their naturally-occurring biological structures, they could be used for a variety of applications that interface electronics with the natural world. Case in point: the recently announced development of working biohybrid “ePlants.”

The plants' tissues have been engineered into behaving like circuitry.

These “cyborg roses,” as their creators from Sweden’s Linköping University call them, are naturally-grown roses that have been fed a special solution containing a conductive polymer. As the roses grow, those polymers become fused with the plant’s own tissues, essentially creating cyborg-like ‘circuitry’ within the roses’ tissues.

While all animal cells and some plant cells generate tiny levels of bioelectric charges known as action potentials, these roses are able to store charges of much higher strength.

According to their publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, the roses represent a new step in organic electronics:

Using the plant’s natural architecture we manufacture supercapacitors along the stem. Our results are preludes to autonomous energy systems integrated within plants and distribute interconnected sensor–actuator systems for plant control and optimization.

Similar experiments have already demonstrated that simple sensors can be embedded into plants, making fields of flowers into bomb-sniffing plantbots. However, this new research opens the door for more demanding applications which require more power. Eleni Stavrinidou of the Linköping University Laboratory of Organic Electronics claims that these ePlants demonstrate a level of energy storage on par with conventionally-manufactured electronic circuits:

We have been able to charge the rose repeatedly, for hundreds of times without any loss on the performance of the device. The levels of energy storage we have achieved are of the same order of magnitude as those in supercapacitors.

If this research continues to show promise, our electronic devices might soon be grown in soil rather than constructed on assembly lines.

Wake up and smell the circuits.

Great: just when we thought the disappearance of human labor couldn’t come any sooner, engineers go and find a way to continue to make human workers obsolete. Of course, someone needs to plant those eSeeds though. No way a robot can do that, right?


Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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