In a development which seems like a cross between Frankenstein and Little Shop of Horrors, a team of scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore have attached a device to a Venus flytrap plant which can electrically stimulate the plant to close its leaf trap on command.
The main challenge was to find an adhesive which would allow the team to stick their small device to the plant, even though the surface of plants is often complex, with small hairs or a variety of surface textures. The best solution the team found was a special kind of hydrogel, called thermogel, which changes from a liquid to a stretchable gel at room temperature. This adhesive conforms to the often complex surface of plants enabling the team to affix their thin-film electronic communication device.
This device not only can communicate electrical signals to the plant, but can also detect signals that the plant emits, in much the same way that an electrocardiogram can detect the electrical signals put out by a beating heart. The electrical signals that plants put out often signal how they are reacting to stimuli in their environment. The research team envision one day farmers being able to sense the onset of disease or other stress in a crop before visible degradation of the plants occurs. This might enable a crop to be saved before disease leads to a complete loss.
In the realm of electrical communication to the plant, the team have already successfully attached a Venus flytrap to a robotic arm, and then used an electrical signal to have the flytrap close and grab a piece of wire a half millimeter in diameter. A possible use for such technology would be to create a robot which could be used to manipulate objects too delicate to be handled by traditional metal robotic grips.