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Singapore Polytechnic Students Provide a Way for Your Plants to Talk to You

Hopefully you'll never kill another plant!

 Transgenic plants emitting green fluoroscence to signal their dehydrated state.

Hope is now available for those of us who love plants but are capable of even killing a cactus.


Singapore Polytechnic students have come up with a way for our plants to tell us if they need watering or fertiliser.


How might one provide plants with a means to communicate their needs to us? One way is to 'teach' plants 'optical' sign language. Using genetic engineering, transgenic plants containing a green fluorescent marker gene from a jellyfish have been developed by our Biotech students. These plants 'light' up when subjected to dehydration stress. The green signal emitted by water stressed plants is detected by an optical sensor that was developed in collaboration with Nanyang Technological University.


The students have obtained the Best Project Award under the Polytechnic Student Research Programme in recognition of their achievements and innovative approach in this project.


Their project does not end here. Such optical tracking of plant water status can be linked with online feedback control of irrigation systems applied in precision agriculture so that water is provided on a field scale only when required.


There are many kinds of fluorescent protein genes. Essentially, we can colour code each type of plant stress with a different fluorescent marker, for example, to get plants to emit red light when under heat stress, blue light when under nutrient stress and so forth. In this way, we can get to know if our plants are having a good day simply by the way they glow.


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