Humans can now communicate with plants.
This statement doesn’t quite seem possible, yet MIT scientists have recently made a breakthrough converting environmental data into knowledge. By bridging the gap between the data plants absorb from their environment and knowledge of hazardous waste and other harmful chemicals in the area.
Throughout this semester we have taken a deep dive into data and explored what conclusions we can draw when turning that data into knowledge. The foundation of this comes from the differentiation of information, data, and knowledge.
The technical aspect of this discovery is complex, yet when broken down the process is quite simple. Carbon nanotubes are embedded into the leaves of plants and detect signals of environmental stressors. These nano-sensors can then be read by applying an infrared light or laser to the plant’s leaves, when the sensors are under distress they emit a fluorescent signal that indicates nitroaromatics are present in the plant’s chemical structure. Nitroaromatics are commonly used in explosive devices, and therefore this technology can alert humans of hidden explosives and avoid casualties in post-war-ridden countries.
See it is a simple process. Still don’t think so? Let me break it down further; this technological breakthrough is a conversion of data to information to knowledge. Plants by nature collect data through their existence, up until this point we, as humans, just haven’t been able to convert that data into helpful knowledge. That is, until now.
The data being collected is the condition of the soil (drought, moisture, chemical compounds). The information or captured data is what the compounds of the soil are. The knowledge we can pull from this set of information is that there is hazardous waste and/or explosive materials in the nearby area. We know this because the information tells us that the compounds present in the soil are an abnormality.
Although this technology is still early in the stages of development, scientists are hopeful of furthering the usage of this knowledge. Private corporations have already expressed interest in production and MIT is working to integrating the production of the nanotubes into industrial manufacturing plants, in order to speed up the production and research behind this technology. All in all, individuals involved are hopeful this technology can benefit a wide variety of industries and global issues, including but not limited to the world climate crisis.
Breen, Kerry. “Spinach Can Send Emails Now, and Twitter Is in Disbeleaf.” TODAY.com, 2 Feb. 2021, www.today.com/food/spinach-can-send-emails-goes-viral-social-media-t207843.
Datarob. “Information vs Data vs Knowledge.” B2B Lead Generation, Datarob, 27 Sept. 2019, datarob.com/information-vs-data-vs-knowledge/.
Tafton, Anne. “Nanosensor Can Alert a Smartphone When Plants Are Stressed.” MIT News | Massachusetts Institute of Technology, news.mit.edu/2020/cnt-nanosensor-smartphone-plant-stress-0415.
Taub, Benjamin. “Scientists Have Finally Taught Salad To Send Out Emails.” IFLScience, IFLScience, 2 Feb. 2021, www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/scientists-have-finally-taught-salad-to-send-out-emails/.
Trafton, Anne. “Carbon Nanotube Transistors Make the Leap from Lab to Factory Floor.” MIT News | Massachusetts Institute of Technology, news.mit.edu/2020/carbon-nanotube-transistors-factory-0601.