© Juan Pablo Giraldo and Nicole M. Iverson
Near-infrared fluorescence of carbon nanotubes (orange) infiltrated inside leaves (green) could boost photosynthesis and enable the detection of biochemicals and pollutants.
Call it the rise of the nanobionic super-plants: Researchers at MIT
are giving plants super powers by placing tiny carbon nanotubes deep within their cells.
Some of the altered plants increased their photosynthetic activity by 30% compared with regular old plants. Others were able to detect tiny traces of pollutants in the air.
And that's just the beginning.
"The idea is to impart plants with functions that are non-native to them," said Michael Strano, professor of chemical engineering at MIT.
Strano's lab has been working at the nexus of plant biology and nanotechnology -- an area called plant nanobionics -- for three years, trying to figure out how to give plants new abilities.
Their first challenge was getting the nanotubes into the plants. Watering plants with a solution that had nanoparticles in it seems to be the obvious choice, but it doesn't work because plant roots have a structure that blocks nanotubes from entering.
Instead, Strano's team turned to the stomata -- small pores on the underside of leaves that let carbon dioxide in and oxygen and water out. The researchers found that if they pressurized a solution that included nanoparticles in a syringe, it would enter the plant through the stomata.