By using a network of micro-sensors inserted into special kinds of plants, the researchers, from Britain, Spain and Italy, hope to be able to interpret information on how plants respond to temperature fluctuations, humidity, chemicals, air pollution and other environmental changes.
The micro-sensor will gather the plants’ signals and compare them with others nearby, to enable us to better understand their methods of communication. One way in which plants are said to communicate is through ‘warning’ secretions which they activate when they are being attacked by bugs and which are then picked up by other plants. These plants in turn activate their own bug-repelling chemicals to ward off attack.
The project, named PLEASED (Plants Employed As Sensing Devices), is led by the relatively small Italian company WLAB and has already secured more than €1 million of EU funding under the Future and Emerging Technologies programme.
Dr Vitaletti, project coordinator and Chief Technology Officer at WLAB says: ‘If understanding is the first necessary step to change, plants can contribute by providing us with a valuable tool to better understand and monitor our environment. But then change is up to us.’
All the technology and data used for the project is being kept open and (hopefully) low-cost, so that as many people as possible can learn from their plants – from tree-hugging scientists to regular greenhouse users.