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My project: Plant-on-a-Chip

If I was to summarise my work in five words, I would say: sensors for plant stress response.

When plants undergo stress, such as salt, pathogens and drought, many chemical signals are produced. By measuring these chemical signals, which can occur within a matter of minutes after exposure to stress or disease, we could detect plant diseases in farms earlier than currently possible. We could also develop plants resistant to disease or stress more easily.

My project involves printing electrical sensors and measuring the chemical environment around the roots of plants. So far, I have developed pH and hydrogen peroxide sensors, both of which change during stress and disease. I have also monitored the uptake of different salts by young seedlings. As salt stress adversely affects crop yields and is becoming more prevalent over time, developing salt-resistant crops would be highly beneficial.

The higher the impedance measured in the paper, the less salt there is left in the paper due to the plants taking up salt. Some salts, such as K, Na, NH4 salts, are readily taken up, whereas salts from heavier metals, such as Ag, Cu and Cd, are taken up far less.

In the future, we hope to produce an all-in-one sensor array that could measure many chemical signals at once, as this could help predict what diseases cause specific responses!


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