LiU Researchers Create Electronic Plants


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With the help of the channels that distribute water and nutrients in plants, the research group at the Laboratory for Organic Electronics, under the leadership of Professor Magnus Berggren, have built the key components of electronic circuits. In an article in Science Advances, they show how roses can produce both analog and digital electronic circuits, which over the long term could be used, for example, to regulate the plant’s physiology.

Traditional electronics send and process electronic signals, while plants transport and handle ions and growth hormones. In organic electronics, based on semi-conductive polymers, both ions and electrons can serve as signal carriers. With the help of organic electronics it therefore becomes possible to combine electric signals with the plant’s own, as if translating the plant’s signals into traditional electronics. With inexpensive organic electronics integrated into plants, a long range of possibilities opens up – such as utilizing energy from photosynthesis in a fuel cell, or reading and regulating the growth and other inner functions of plants.

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Using semi-conductive polymers, both analog and digital electronic circuits can be created inside living flowers, bushes and trees, as researchers at Linköping University Laboratory for Organic Electronics have shown.

“Previously, we had no good tools for measuring the concentration of various molecules in living plants. Now we’ll be able to influence the concentration of the various substances in the plant that regulate growth and development.  Here, I see great possibilities for learning more,” says Ove Nilsson, professor of plant reproduction biology at the Umeå Plant Science Center and co-author of the article.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, Magnus Berggren – professor of Organic Electronics at Linköping University’s Norrköping campus – has been researching printed electronics on paper. Now and then the idea of putting electronics into the tree itself cropped up, but research funders were indifferent.  Thanks to independent research money from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation at the end of 2012, Professor Berggren could hire three researchers with new doctorates: Roger Gabrielsson, Eleni Stavrinidou and Eliot Gomez. The task was to investigate – with the help of the more senior researchers at Linköping University and the Umeå Plant Science Center – whether it was possible to introduce and even produce electronics in plants.

The answer, in other words, was yes. In just about two years, the research group succeeded in getting plants to produce both analog and digital circuits.

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