Forget receiving emails from a Nigerian Prince telling you that you’re going to win money, your everyday vegetable may be sending you an email soon.
The humble spinach, or ‘paalak’ or ‘paalang saag’ as it is known in the Indian subcontinent is a common item in kitchens. You wash it, you cook it, you eat it. What would it be like - if they could send emails? Turns out, now they can.
This isn’t science fiction but reality, and scientists have taught an actual vegetable (specifically spinach) to send emails. The research, called “Nitroaromatic detection and infrared communication from wild-type plants usingplant nanobionics" has been published online in journal Nature in 2016.
The research revolves around “plant nanobionics aims to embed non-native functions to plants by interfacing them with speciﬁcally designed nanoparticles. Here, we demonstrate that living spinach plants (Spinacia oleracea) can be engineered to serve as self-powered pre-concentrators and autosamplers of analytes in ambient groundwater and as infrared communication platforms that cansend information to a smartphone."
In simpler terms, when the spinach roots detect the presence of nitroaromatics in groundwater, a compound often found in explosives like landmines, the carbon nanotubes within the plant leaves emit a signal. This signal is then read by an infrared camera, sending an email alert to the scientists.
This experiment is part of a wider field of research which involves engineering electronic components and systems into plants. The technology is known as “plant nanobionics", and is effectively the process of giving plants new abilities.
“Plants are very good analytical chemists," Professor Michael Strano who led the research, Euronews has quoted him as saying. “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."
While the research paper itself is over four years old, the Internet has just learnt about it.
Scientists from the American University have found that when spinach is converted into carbon nanosheets, it can function as a catalyst to help make metal-air batteries and fuel cells more efficient.
“This work suggests that sustainable catalysts can be made for an oxygen reduction reaction from natural resources," explains Professor Shouzhong Zou, who led the paper.
In summary, the paper adds that while ge-netic engineering can introduce non-native communication chan-nels such as de-greening, wilting or fluorescent protein expression, such methods may not easily interface to a wide range of electronic technologies, such as infrared telecommunications, or electronics signalling in obvious ways, and it can take span over the course of hours or days, while infrared communication via nanoparticle transducers can occur at much shorter times scales.