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Plant Sensors On Tape

Many of us have wrist bands that measure exercise and other vitals. Corn plants may soon have something similar. Iowa State University researchers are developing wearable electronic sensors for plants to monitor nitrate and water uptake. They’ve dubbed it a “plant sensor tattoo” that is attached to a leaf with tape.

Liang Dong, an Iowa State University associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, is the developer of the technology. He says the sensors are so thin they can detect transpiration from plants, but won’t affect plant growth or crop production.

"You attach that directly to the back of the leaf, and as the water leaves the leaf, then the sensor can report how much water is leaving the plant," says Dong. "Use wires to connect it to a control box, then tell people the amount of water leaving the plant."

Dong says they can put sensors on two leaves, water the plant, and the sensors will indicate the time required for water to move from the roots to each specific leaf. This will be very helpful in variety research.

"So, you basically can convert the time gap between these two signals to the speed of water moving inside the plant. This is important and very useful for breeding," he says. "You can use a set of sensors like this on different varieties to see how fast different varieties of the plant can uptake water under different conditions."

The ISU Research Foundation has applied for a patent on the sensor technology, and is working with a startup company to commercialize it.

Learn more about tape-based sensors for crops, how they work now and the future possibilities.

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