With xylem as a template, roses are becoming supercapacitors. Image Source: Flickr User: rabbit_akra

Adding electrical circuitry to plants is not a new idea, but most attempts have been poorly executed. That said, with the aid of advanced computer simulations, researchers created an innovative polymer that has facilitated the transformation of a rose from a simple plant into a supercapacitor.1 Plants and animal already have an innate “circuitry” via their vascular tissue, but until recently this has been tough to harness. Researchers say that this research is in its early stages, but with innovative lab technology, advances are closer than ever before.

Learning from Nature

In recent years, there’s been a resurgence of different technologies looking to learn from and create technology to integrate with the natural world. This is evidenced by research into different nanocarriers for drug delivery, such as viral capsids, and simulated chloroplasts to create energy, which has partially dictated the path of solar cells. Photosynthetic organisms are creating energy from the sun in ways that humans have yet to fully replicate in a useable manner, but solar cells are a step in the right direction. As researchers continue to learn more about the basic mechanisms governing these activities, they will slowly be able to integrate this knowledge with modern lab software to model further implications of these processes on a larger scale.

Plants contain a wide swath of tissues, many of which are incredibly specialized to host a complex vascular system not seen in other organisms. Researchers used the xylem vascular tissue of a Rosa floribunda (one of the common varieties of garden rose) as a template for long-range conducting wires made using an innovative polymer. But first, researchers had a couple of hurdles to overcome.

Designing Plant-Integrated Polymers

The template these researchers was using was living tissue, therefore, to create an electronic device inside of it the plant needed to take on the electrical circuitry on its own. Which brings up a number of concerns regarding the material2:

  • Survivability. Will this material kill the organism? By modelling materials using innovative lab software, it is easier to investigate whether or not the material will continue to travel through the xylem without clogging it, as well as research whether or not the components of the material are toxic to the organism.
  • Distance Traveled. Many previous attempts at conducting similar experiments were thwarted by polymerization too early. To overcome this obstacle, researchers did computer modelling to look at the molecular dynamics to ensure that the materials could travel the full distance and polymerize at the right time.
  • Polymerization. Modelling and testing polymerization using advanced lab software allows researchers to find ways to either trigger or time polymerization at the correct time. In the case of the rose experiments, the plant’s biochemical response mechanism acts as the catalyst for polymerization. This allows researchers or those using this technology in the future to sit back and relax without having to worry about triggering polymerization at a precise moment.

With BIOVIA Materials Studio, comprehensive models can be created to allow researchers to better predict what will polymerize within the plant and why. The innovative polymer industry is growing rapidly, and discoveries like this have countless potential implications, which can be explored through advanced computer software. This could save you and your lab both time and R&D funds that would otherwise be spent exploring poor leads. Please contact us today to learn more about how our software options can support the efforts of your lab.

  1. “In vivo polymerization and manufacturing of wires and supercapacitors in plants,” March 14, 2017, http://www.pnas.org/content/114/11/2807.full
  2. “Electronic plants,” November 20, 2015, http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/10/e1501136.full