Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Press > Bionic plants: Nanotechnology could turn shrubbery into supercharged energy

Credit: Bryce Vickmark
Making bionic plants
Researchers use a near-infrared microscope to read the output of carbon nanotube sensors embedded in Arabidopsis thallana plant.
Credit: Bryce Vickmark

Making bionic plants Researchers use a near-infrared microscope to read the output of carbon nanotube sensors embedded in Arabidopsis thallana plant.

Abstract:
Plants have many valuable functions: They provide food and fuel, release the oxygen that we breathe, and add beauty to our surroundings. Now, a team of MIT researchers wants to make plants even more useful by augmenting them with nanomaterials that could enhance their energy production and give them completely new functions, such as monitoring environmental pollutants.

Bionic plants: Nanotechnology could turn shrubbery into supercharged energy

Cambridge, MA | Posted on March 16th, 2014

In a new Nature Materials paper, the researchers report boosting plants' ability to capture light energy by 30 percent by embedding carbon nanotubes in the chloroplast, the plant organelle where photosynthesis takes place. Using another type of carbon nanotube, they also modified plants to detect the gas nitric oxide.

Together, these represent the first steps in launching a scientific field the researchers have dubbed "plant nanobionics."

"Plants are very attractive as a technology platform," says Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering and leader of the MIT research team. "They repair themselves, they're environmentally stable outside, they survive in harsh environments, and they provide their own power source and water distribution."

Strano and the paper's lead author, postdoc and plant biologist Juan Pablo Giraldo, envision turning plants into self-powered, photonic devices such as detectors for explosives or chemical weapons. The researchers are also working on incorporating electronic devices into plants. "The potential is really endless," Strano says.

Supercharged photosynthesis

The idea for nanobionic plants grew out of a project in Strano's lab to build self-repairing solar cells modeled on plant cells. As a next step, the researchers wanted to try enhancing the photosynthetic function of chloroplasts isolated from plants, for possible use in solar cells.

Chloroplasts host all of the machinery needed for photosynthesis, which occurs in two stages. During the first stage, pigments such as chlorophyll absorb light, which excites electrons that flow through the thylakoid membranes of the chloroplast. The plant captures this electrical energy and uses it to power the second stage of photosynthesis — building sugars.

Chloroplasts can still perform these reactions when removed from plants, but after a few hours, they start to break down because light and oxygen damage the photosynthetic proteins. Usually plants can completely repair this kind of damage, but extracted chloroplasts can't do it on their own.

To prolong the chloroplasts' productivity, the researchers embedded them with cerium oxide nanoparticles, also known as nanoceria. These particles are very strong antioxidants that scavenge oxygen radicals and other highly reactive molecules produced by light and oxygen, protecting the chloroplasts from damage.

The researchers delivered nanoceria into the chloroplasts using a new technique they developed called lipid exchange envelope penetration, or LEEP. Wrapping the particles in polyacrylic acid, a highly charged molecule, allows the particles to penetrate the fatty, hydrophobic membranes that surrounds chloroplasts. In these chloroplasts, levels of damaging molecules dropped dramatically.

Using the same delivery technique, the researchers also embedded semiconducting carbon nanotubes, coated in negatively charged DNA, into the chloroplasts. Plants typically make use of only about 10 percent of the sunlight available to them, but carbon nanotubes could act as artificial antennae that allow chloroplasts to capture wavelengths of light not in their normal range, such as ultraviolet, green, and near-infrared.

With carbon nanotubes appearing to act as a "prosthetic photoabsorber," photosynthetic activity — measured by the rate of electron flow through the thylakoid membranes — was 49 percent greater than that in isolated chloroplasts without embedded nanotubes. When nanoceria and carbon nanotubes were delivered together, the chloroplasts remained active for a few extra hours.

The researchers then turned to living plants and used a technique called vascular infusion to deliver nanoparticles into Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant. Using this method, the researchers applied a solution of nanoparticles to the underside of the leaf, where it penetrated tiny pores known as stomata, which normally allow carbon dioxide to flow in and oxygen to flow out. In these plants, the nanotubes moved into the chloroplast and boosted photosynthetic electron flow by about 30 percent.

Yet to be discovered is how that extra electron flow influences the plants' sugar production. "This is a question that we are still trying to answer in the lab: What is the impact of nanoparticles on the production of chemical fuels like glucose?" Giraldo says.

Lean green machines

The researchers also showed that they could turn Arabidopsis thaliana plants into chemical sensors by delivering carbon nanotubes that detect the gas nitric oxide, an environmental pollutant produced by combustion.

Strano's lab has previously developed carbon nanotube sensors for many different chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide, the explosive TNT, and the nerve gas sarin. When the target molecule binds to a polymer wrapped around the nanotube, it alters the tube's fluorescence.

"We could someday use these carbon nanotubes to make sensors that detect in real time, at the single-particle level, free radicals or signaling molecules that are at very low-concentration and difficult to detect," Giraldo says.

By adapting the sensors to different targets, the researchers hope to develop plants that could be used to monitor environmental pollution, pesticides, fungal infections, or exposure to bacterial toxins. They are also working on incorporating electronic nanomaterials, such as graphene, into plants.

"Right now, almost no one is working in this emerging field," Giraldo says. "It's an opportunity for people from plant biology and the chemical engineering nanotechnology community to work together in an area that has a large potential."

###
The research was funded primarily by the U.S. Department of Energy.

####

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Sarah McDonnell

617-253-8923

Copyright © Massachusetts Institute of Technology

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

News and information

Basque researchers turn light upside down February 23rd, 2018

Stiffness matters February 23rd, 2018

Imaging individual flexible DNA 'building blocks' in 3-D: Berkeley Lab researchers generate first images of 129 DNA structures February 22nd, 2018

'Memtransistor' brings world closer to brain-like computing: Combined memristor and transistor can process information and store memory with one device February 22nd, 2018

Chemistry

Ultra-efficient removal of carbon monoxide using gold nanoparticles on a molecular support: New method and mechanism for state-of-the-art gas purification February 9th, 2018

Fast-spinning spheres show nanoscale systems' secrets: Rice University lab demonstrates energetic properties of colloids in spinning magnetic field February 7th, 2018

New filters could enable manufacturers to perform highly-selective chemical separation January 23rd, 2018

Nanowrinkles could save billions in shipping and aquaculture Surfaces inspired by carnivorous plants delay degradation by marine fouling January 17th, 2018

Sensors

Graphene on toast, anyone? Rice University scientists create patterned graphene onto food, paper, cloth, cardboard February 13th, 2018

Leti Chief Scientist Barbara De Salvo Will Help Kick Off ISSCC 2018 with Opening-Day Keynote: In Addition, Leti Scientists Will Present and Demo New Technology for Piezoelectric Energy Harvesting February 8th, 2018

Engineers develop flexible, water-repellent graphene circuits for washable electronics January 24th, 2018

Leti to Demo New Curving Technology at Photonics West that Improves Performance of Optical Components January 18th, 2018

Discoveries

Basque researchers turn light upside down February 23rd, 2018

Histology in 3-D: New staining method enables Nano-CT imaging of tissue samples February 22nd, 2018

Developing reliable quantum computers February 22nd, 2018

Imaging individual flexible DNA 'building blocks' in 3-D: Berkeley Lab researchers generate first images of 129 DNA structures February 22nd, 2018

Announcements

Basque researchers turn light upside down February 23rd, 2018

Stiffness matters February 23rd, 2018

Histology in 3-D: New staining method enables Nano-CT imaging of tissue samples February 22nd, 2018

Developing reliable quantum computers February 22nd, 2018

Interviews/Book Reviews/Essays/Reports/Podcasts/Journals/White papers

Basque researchers turn light upside down February 23rd, 2018

Stiffness matters February 23rd, 2018

Histology in 3-D: New staining method enables Nano-CT imaging of tissue samples February 22nd, 2018

Developing reliable quantum computers February 22nd, 2018

Homeland Security

A dash of gold improves microlasers: The precious metal provides a 'nano' solution for improving disease detection, defense and cybersecurity applications October 9th, 2017

Two Scientists Receive Grants to Develop New Materials: Chad Mirkin and Monica Olvera de la Cruz recognized by Sherman Fairchild Foundation August 16th, 2017

Nanosensors on the alert for terrorist threats: Scientists interested in the prospects of gas sensors based on binary metal oxide nanocomposites November 5th, 2016

Nanobionic spinach plants can detect explosives: After sensing dangerous chemicals, the carbon-nanotube-enhanced plants send an alert November 2nd, 2016

Military

Graphene on toast, anyone? Rice University scientists create patterned graphene onto food, paper, cloth, cardboard February 13th, 2018

Silk fibers could be high-tech ‘natural metamaterials’ January 31st, 2018

Researchers use sound waves to advance optical communication January 22nd, 2018

New Method Uses DNA, Nanoparticles and Top-Down Lithography to Make Optically Active Structures: Technique could lead to new classes of materials that can bend light, such as for those used in cloaking devices January 18th, 2018

Food/Agriculture/Supplements

Graphene on toast, anyone? Rice University scientists create patterned graphene onto food, paper, cloth, cardboard February 13th, 2018

Silk fibers could be high-tech ‘natural metamaterials’ January 31st, 2018

Nanowrinkles could save billions in shipping and aquaculture Surfaces inspired by carnivorous plants delay degradation by marine fouling January 17th, 2018

Rice U.'s one-step catalyst turns nitrates into water and air: NSF-funded NEWT Center aims for catalytic converter for nitrate-polluted water January 5th, 2018

Energy

Round-the-clock power from smart bowties February 5th, 2018

Silk fibers could be high-tech ‘natural metamaterials’ January 31st, 2018

A simple new approach to plastic solar cells: Osaka University researchers intelligently design new highly efficient organic solar cells based on amorphous electronic materials with potential for easy printing January 28th, 2018

Nature paper by Schlumberger researchers used photothermal based nanoscale IR spectroscopy to analyze heterogeneous process of petroleum generation January 23rd, 2018

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project