Plants sponge up nanomaterials that augment photosynthesis.


Scientists have figured out how to give plants a high-tech upgrade.

In new research, Australian scientists show how plants can be augmented with nanomaterials that make them better at absorbing sunlight — and may help them survive on futuristic Martian farms.

Old System

People have long been able to introduce new compounds into plants via their vascular systems, which shuttle water and nutrients throughout a plant similarly to our blood vessels.

But metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), which are the metallic nanomaterials that the scientists used to augment chrysanthemums and lilyturfs, are too complex to be taken up by a plant. Instead, the plants were given smaller, metallic ions and simple molecules that the plant's internal machinery automatically synthesized into a complete MOF.

Heart Shaped Herb

As astronauts venture farther into space, they'll need food and supplies. These cyborg plants could help, as some MOFs can enable plants to convert ultraviolet light — plentiful outside the Earth's atmosphere — into light that it can absorb via photosynthesis.

"As we contemplate growing crops in space or on Mars where you don't have an atmosphere and are bombarded by UV rays, something like this could be helpful," said lead researcher Joseph Richardson. "Especially as you get farther away from the sun, it's harder to capture all of the light you'd need for photosynthesis."

READ MORE: Nanomaterials give plants 'super' abilities [ACS Newsroom via]

More on space farming: Bad News: That Moon Plant Everybody Was Talking About Is Dead

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