Roses conducting electricity

A team of Swedish analysts have created flexible electronic circuits — produced using pliable organic materials — inside a rose. Their material makes them conceivably compatible with tissues and has impelled research endeavors to utilize them to diagnose and treat diseases.

Their idea was to utilize the plant’s own structural engineering and biology to assist them in assembling devices on the inside. They aimed to assemble polymer-based “wires” on the inside of a plant’s xylem. They expected that on the off-chance that they could break down conducting polymer building blocks in water, maybe plants could pull them up the channels and connect them into wires.

Swedish researchers have created a circuit inside the stems and leaves of rose cuttings. Graphic from Linkoping University.
Swedish researchers have created a circuit inside the stems and leaves of rose cuttings.
Graphic from Linkoping University.


After Magnus Berggren, a materials scientist and electrical engineer at Linköping University, Norrköping, in Sweden, and his associates tried more than a dozen different polymer electronic building blocks — all unsuccessful — they tried an organic electronic building block called PEDOT-S:H. Each of these building blocks comprises of a short, repeating chain of a conductive organic molecule with short arms coming off each section of the chain.

Each of the arms has a sulfur-containing group bonded to a hydrogen atom. Berggren’s group found that when they set them in the water, the rose stems promptly pulled the short polymer chains up the xylem channels. The intact plants pulled the organics up through the roots also, much more gradually, however, Berggren says.

Once inside, the chemistry in those channels pulled the hydrogen atoms off the short arms, a change that provoked the sulfur groups on neighboring chains to link together. The team then added electronic probes to opposite ends of these strings, and found that they were wires, directing electricity all down the line.

When that worked, Berggren’s group included other electronic patches on the surface of their rose stems to make transistors that could switch the current in a wire on and off. As they report in Science Advances, they went ahead to utilize an arrangement of different techniques to show they could get leaves to take up organic electronics, creating an array of pixels.

This isn’t the first time researchers have infused plants with electrical materials, but the first time they’ve utilized the plants’ own vascular framework to form a circuit. This innovation could give a method of controlling plant biology for experimental exploration, to collect energy — or as another option to genetic engineering.

In the long run, the development may permit individuals to collect energy from trees and shrubs, not by chopping them down and utilizing them for fuel, but by connecting them directly into their photosynthesis hardware. It also may be possible to harness plants’ photosynthesis capacities to create electricity directly, allowing us to procure the sun’s energy without destroying the plants.