Scientists Have Taught Spinach Plants To Send Emails

by : Cameron Frew on : 02 Feb 2021 09:49
Scientists Have Taught Spinach Plants To Send EmailsPixabay

Scientists in the US have managed to teach spinach to send emails.

The plants aren’t exactly sending the old reliable ‘Hope you’re well in these trying times!’ emails, but spinach is somehow communicating with engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).


The reality is far more technical, and useful, with scientists using nanotechnology to transform the plants into sensors that can relay information about explosive materials back to humans on computers.

Spinach PA Images

In a study published in Nature Materials, it reads, ‘Here, we demonstrate that living spinach plants can be engineered to serve as self-powered pre-concentrators and autosamplers of analytes in ambient groundwater and as infrared communication platforms that can send information to a smartphone.’

This niche area of tech research is known as ‘plant nanobionics’, looking to give plants we know, use and consume, new purposes. In this case, it’s honing their innate chemistry in a way we can access and study.

Spinach PA Images

Professor Michael Strano, who led the research, explained to euronews, ‘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.’

He added, ‘This is a novel demonstration of how we have overcome the plant/human communication barrier.’

Initially, the experiment was conceived as a way to detect explosives, although the team believes spinach plants could be used to warn us about climate change and other environmental issues. Think about it: plants absorb crazy amounts of data just from existing, so they’re ideal sources of information on the ecological changes around us.

Spinach PA Images

From detecting pollutants, Strano then focused on having sensors that picked up nitric oxide, a pollutant caused by combustion.

The professor said, ‘Plants are very environmentally responsive. They know that there is going to be a drought long before we do. They can detect small changes in the properties of soil and water potential. If we tap into those chemical signalling pathways, there is a wealth of information to access.’

Spinach PA Images

Professor Shouzhong Zou, who led the paper, also reported converting spinach into carbon nanosheets. He explained, ‘This work suggests that sustainable catalysts can be made for an oxygen reduction reaction from natural resources.’

He added, ‘The method we tested can produce highly active, carbon-based catalysts from spinach, which is a renewable biomass. In fact, we believe it outperforms commercial platinum catalysts in both activity and stability.’

Hopefully they don’t leaf the scientists on read.

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Science, Climate Change, Now, plants, Technology


euronews and 1 other
  1. euronews


  2. Nature Materials

    Nitroaromatic detection and infraredcommunication from wild-type plants usingplant nanobionics