Scientists develop ‘electronic soil’ that zap plant roots with electricity.

Scientists develop 'electronic soil' that zap plant roots with electricity.

Researchers from Linkoping University have introduced eSoil, an electrically conductive cultivation soil that has the remarkable ability to increase barley seedling growth by 50% in just 15 days, in a new study that was published in the journal PNAS.

This advancement in hydroponic technology has the potential to completely transform urban farming and make a substantial contribution to the world’s food security.

The technique of growing plants without soil, known as hydroponics, depends on a substrate for root attachment, water, and nutrients. Because of the closed design of the system, effective water recirculation is made possible, guaranteeing that every plant gets the exact nutrients it requires.

This technique accomplishes two goals that traditional soil-based agriculture is unable to: it conserves water and maintains nutrients within the system.

Due to the challenges posed by climate change and the growing global population, Eleni Stavrinidou, an associate professor at Linkoping University’s Laboratory of Organic Electronics and leader of the Electronic Plants group, emphasizes the urgency of developing new agricultural techniques.

With hydroponics, we can grow food in urban environments under very controlled settings” she says.

Compared to the frequently used mineral wool substrates in hydroponics, which are created through energy-intensive processes and are not biodegradable, the eSoil is a major advancement.

The most common biopolymer, cellulose, is combined with PEDOT, a conductive polymer, to create the new substrate. Although this mixture is not new, its use as a plant interface and in plant cultivation is unparalleled.

The low energy consumption of eSoil and the removal of high voltage hazards connected with earlier studies that used high voltage to stimulate plant roots are two of its main advantages. Barley seedlings grown in eSoil have been found by the researchers to process nitrogen more efficiently; however, the precise biological mechanisms underlying the enhanced growth and the role of electrical stimulation are still unclear.

While hydroponics might not be able to address food security on its own, Stavrinidou agrees that it can have a significant impact, particularly in areas with scarce arable land and unforgiving environmental conditions. The study’s conclusions open up new avenues for investigation into hydroponic farming, which could result in more effective ways to produce food.

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