Sensors to detect plants distress signals could help reduce pesticide use

While world leaders are trying to educate farmers on practices and farming techniques that can help reduce the use of pesticides and fungicides, researchers at the University of Georgia are trying to catch early signs of injured plants by way of sensors. The team here believes that plants, just like other forms of life, cry for help by communicating with other plants and beneficial insects by producing certain chemicals. These chemicals can convey to other plants to produce the same chemical that could, for example, tell wasps that their favorite prey is available.

The team states that plants and trees have a network of electrochemical sensors, just like us, to communicate with other plants and trees. The scientists at UGA are now trying to use that distress signal to help farmers, by creating a sensor that can detect these signals of stress long before they become visible to the naked eye.

The sensors will be able to detect the release of particular chemicals in very low concentrations, while ignoring other chemicals released by the plant. Since the sensors detect the damage at a very early stage, farmers will have to apply pesticides in very low doses. Conventionally, farmers have to spend up to $400 for one application of a fungicide or a pesticide per acre of land.

The new sensors would not only allow farmers to save money, but the low concentration of pesticides would make farmlands much environmentally friendly. The sensors will be designed to work just like a diabetics monitor where it will look for a particular distress signal with a specially designed nanoscale device. This highly sensitive sensor would emit a small electric signal on detecting plant distress.

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