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May 28, 2020

Vegetation Circulation

A new method developed by engineers at MIT may offer a starting point for delivering life-saving treatments to plants ravaged by certain diseases. Microneedles made of silk-based material can target plant tissues for delivery of micronutrients, hormones, or genes.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

All-access patch.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: tropical outdoor sounds) Globally, some of our favorite fruits bananas, oranges and olives are in peril because of circulatory system diseases. Some citrus fruits are susceptible to Citrus Greening -- an insect-borne (Sound effect: insect sound) bacterial infection that blocks the flow of nutrients through a tree. Lethal, and currently incurable, partly because it's so tough to reach the bacteria that hide deep inside a tree's roots. Taking a cue from how human diseases are treated, MIT engineers are on it. The team has developed a precise way to get meds, nutrients or other material to any part of a plant.

Their device is sort of a patch, made of specially designed silk-based micro-needles that can inject into roots, stems, leaves, or directly into a plant's circulatory system, and could even take samples for analysis.

In lab tests with tomato and tobacco plants, the team injected fluorescent molecules and observed them moving throughout the plants -- roots to leaves. Their method could potentially be used to treat the citrus disease -- getting an antibacterial compound down into the roots by injecting it into the chain of cells that transports sugars within the plant.

The system could be adapted to most any crop, and might also deliver micronutrients, hormones -- even genes to engineer plants for disease resistance.

Helping assure the future of healthy crops by injecting a dose of -- ingenuity.

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