Nanoscale sensing technology promising for water regulation in plants

Sept. 22, 2021
The new technology could ultimately help with water regulation, something that is crucial to plant health.

A new technology is allowing researchers to measure the water status inside a plant leaf’s surface. This could ultimately help with water regulation, something that is crucial to plant health.

Developed by a team from Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), with the new technology, which employs nanoscale sensors and fiber optics, the researchers injected nanoparticles that are formed of a soft synthetic hydrogel to measure a maize plant leafs water potential; this hydrogel swells and shrinks based on water availability in a leaf. According to the researchers, the hydrogel occupies the interstitial spaces between cells in a plant’s mesophyll, where much of its photosynthesis and water stress occur.

The hydrogel contains dyes whose interactions allow it to fluoresce at different wavelengths depending on how close the dye molecules are to each other. Specifically, the hydrogel was injected “in multiple places along meters-long maize leaves and then measured the water gradients both along the length of the leaves and through the mesophyll.” With these measurements, the team developed a model of the tissue response to water stress and was able to accurately predict the dynamics observed in the field. Additionally, using fiber optics, the researchers have been able to shine a light and get a spectrum back, which “provides a measurement of water potential inside the leaf.”

The new technology will ultimately help plant biologists better understand water stress, which could in turn lead to more drought-resistant, water-efficient crops. Commercially, it shows potential for applications in research and production agriculture. Reference: P. Jain et al., Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., 118, 23, e2008276118 (Jun. 8, 2021); doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2008276118.

About the Author

Justine Murphy | Multimedia Director, Laser & Military

Justine Murphy is the multimedia director for the Laser & Military Group at Endeavor Business Media. In addition to Laser Focus World, the group includes Military & Aerospace Electronics and Vision Systems Design. She is a multiple award-winning writer and editor with more 20 years of experience in newspaper publishing as well as public relations, marketing, and communications. For nearly 10 years, she has covered all facets of the optics and photonics industry as an editor, writer, web news anchor, and podcast host for an internationally reaching magazine publishing company. Her work has earned accolades from the New England Press Association as well as the SIIA/Jesse H. Neal Awards. She received a B.A. from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

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