Plants communicate using their own language, made up of electrical signals, they send messages to other plants and to the environment. In Florence, a European research project is analysing this electrical activity.
Stefano Mancuso, a biologist, explained why: “Plants are able to sense the gravitational field, electrical fields, chemicals gradients, etc. This huge amount of information, exchanged by plants is there, why shouldn’t we use it? We just have to find out how to decode it, and then make it intelligible.”
The first task is to digitally analyse the behaviour of cyborg-plants in specific circumstances. Andrea Vitaletti, a computer scientist, and WLAB PLEASED project coordinator, said: “Observing signals generated by the plants, we can backtrack to the stimuli that generate them, and find good quality signals. Once they have been read without being distorted, and have possibly been amplified, they are digitized. In other words, an analog signal which varies in time is converted into data.”
Stefano Mancuso, described the research: “It‘s a real vocabulary – each electrical message corresponds to a specific environmental parameter. If we can break the code, we will have a Rosetta Stone for plants, which will tell us what plants are sensing.”
A digital network and a powerful algorithm transform each tree into an environmental informer. A single tree will be able to give information about several environmental parameters simultaneously. But using traditional sensors, as is currently the case in environmental monitoring stations, means using one sensor for each parameter, which is very expensive.”
From real-time monitoring of ozone, to measuring chemicals in agriculture, decoding the language of plants could give us a global picture of the health of our environment, in a way we never had before.