Science-fiction writers have long envisioned human¬-machine hybrids that wield extraordinary powers. However, "super plants" with integrated nanomaterials may be much closer to reality than cyborgs. Today, scientists report the development of plants that can make nanomaterials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and the application of MOFs as coatings on plants. The augmented plants could potentially perform useful new functions, such as sensing chemicals or harvesting light more efficiently.
The researchers will present their results today at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Spring 2019 National Meeting & Exposition.
According to the project's lead researcher, Joseph Richardson, Ph.D., humans have been introducing foreign materials to plants for thousands of years. "One example of this isflowerdyeing," he says. "You'd immerse a cut flower stem into some dye, and the dye would be taken up through the stem and penetrate into the flower petals, and then you'd see these beautiful colors."
Because of their extensive vascular networks, plants readily absorb water and molecules dissolved in fluids. However, it's more difficult for larger materials and nanoparticles such as MOFs to penetrate roots. So Richardson and colleagues at the University of Melbourne (Australia) wondered if they could feed plants MOF precursors, which the plants would absorb and then convert into finished nanomaterials.