19575‘Nanobionics’ aims to give plants super p owers
- Apr 1, 2014Has anyone read this news? How could it apply to rhododendrons and azaleas? Could uncrossable gaps in hybridizing be bridged?From The State (Columbia, SC) March 30, 2014‘Nanobionics’ aims to give plants super powers
By DEBORAH NETBURN Los Angeles Times
Plants are an engineering marvel of nature. Fueled by sunlight, they recycle our carbon dioxide waste into fresh oxygen for us to breathe. Plus, they make the world prettier. But, with a little help from us humans, can they be coaxed to do even more?Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been experimenting with giving plants new powers by placing tiny carbon nano-tubes in their chloroplasts– the tiny engine of the plant cell where photosynthesis takes place.After much trial and error, their efforts have succeeded. Some of the altered plants produced in their lab have increased their photosynthetic activity by 30 percent compared with regular 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, a professor of chemical engineering who oversaw the experiments.In other words, he wants to give plants super powers.Strano’s lab is the first to work at the nexus of plant biology and nanotechnology – a new field dubbed “nanobionics.”Plants only use 10 percent of the sunlight available to them. All green light, for example, is reflected by the leaves. But after feeding the nano-tubes to living plants, their photosynthetic activity increased by 30 percent. The technique worked even better on extracted chloroplasts (the kind they got from spinach), causing their photosynthetic activity to increase by 49 percent.The MIT scientists aren’t sure exactly what the nanotubes did to make photosynthesis so much more efficient. One possible explanation they offered is that nanotubes share electrons with chloroplasts, allowing the chloroplast to capture a broader range of light (including green light).
Mike Creel, SC USDA Zone 8a
Lexington, South Carolina
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