Plants are crucial to human existence and growth since they are the most straightforward source of nourishment. They are an essential component of the ecosystem and are critical for cooling, humidification, sustaining the material cycle and balancing carbon and oxygen levels. They also play a crucial role in protecting the environment and eventually attaining sustainable development. Accurately tracking plant health and understanding the feedback loops that exist between the ecological environment and plants are of utmost importance because agriculture will need to be developed with constant and ardent effort.
Although numerous technological and scientific difficulties will arise during this procedure, research efforts are continuously put forward in cutting-edge fields including information agriculture, precision agriculture and smart agriculture. This results in the constructed management system’s data collection process yielding data that can be processed and analysed to enable automated production that is more precise scientifically, transforming from conventional approaches. Through plant electrophysiology, agriculturists and scientists can fully regulate every aspect of a plant’s growth cycle.
What is Plant Electrophysiology?
First discovered in the 18th century, plant electrophysiology studies the electrochemical phenomena associated with plant cells and tissues at different scales and in response to stimuli such as applied pressure, chemical substances, thermal stimuli, electrical or magnetic stimuli, and mechanical stimuli (Yudina et al., 2021). Nowadays, research in the field of plant electrophysiology has largely advanced knowledge of molecular physiology, physiological processes in plants, plant growth, photoelectric response and defence mechanisms.
More recently, research in the area of plant electrophysiology has gained interest in the direction of the early identification of various abiotic (drought, heat, wind) and biotic (attacks by pests and diseases) stress factors before any symptoms become evident in the plant, including the logical adjustment of environmental factors like temperature, humidity, and light. Additional factors also include the scientific adjustment of soil quality and irrigation frequency, the accurate control of fertiliser quantity and application intervals, and the anticipation and prevention of pest and disease stress. This potential is particularly helpful for developing agricultural technology and plant science as well as assisting crop and food producers in making well-informed decisions that are also economical.
Nada Bumi (Earth Tones) – Reading the Electrical Signals in Plants | Quality of the Environment
An innovative example of the use of plant electrophysiology is “Nada Bumi” also known as “Earth Tones”. Starting in 2017, this project is a collaboration between Digital Nativ (Indonesia) and Invisible Flock (United Kingdom). In an effort to document the data footprint of these ecosystems at the vanguard of climate change, they gather sound, air, biodata and sample data from all of Java and Flores, travelling to some of Indonesia’s most diverse and harsh environments. The project records reinterpret and emphasise the fragility of these dissolving environments by revealing hidden natural phenomena, such as the electrical energy that plants produce, the gradual bleaching of corals and the seismic patterns left in a lava flow.
2 years after their collaboration, Digital Nativ developed a device called the “Nada Bumi Solo”, which is an instrument that explores the hidden communication processes of plants through the sonification of their bioelectrical activity (Digital Nativ, 2019). With the ability to capture electrical activity produced by live plants, the Solo can transform these ‘invisible’ electrical impulses into audible sounds using unique signal processing. To draw attention to the vulnerable state of endemic plants, Digital Nativ aims to develop an online data bank with the collected biodata so that artists, botanical hobbyists and science enthusiasts may use this data to produce and perpetuate musical scores, audio art, or data-driven art. In summary, the Solo broadens one’s senses to perceive surroundings by presenting a realm that is only audible to scientists.
Plant Electrophysiology as a Tool to Improve Crop Production
For the development of commercial crops, adequate plant nutrition is crucial; it needs 18 different nutrients, which are all equally vital to the plant. Through adverse effects on related growth factors, the lack of any one of these nutrients may result in a reduction in crop yields and quality. Therefore, farmers need to make an early diagnosis of nutritional imbalances or shortages. Plant electrophysiology offers persuasive evidence that electrical potential fluctuation in a commercial tomato crop contains information that can be simulated to identify iron (Fe) shortage six days before visual symptoms manifest, with an accuracy of 75% prediction on test data.
Through the xylem and phloem, numerous nutrients’ signal transduction is mediated. To better grasp the fundamental concepts of nutritional stress-induced warning systems, researchers studying plant nutrition may benefit from a sensor that tracks electrical changes in conductive tissue. This discovery provides a research route that may be expanded to other crucial nutrients for crops and shows how plant electrophysiology works in conjunction with machine learning that may be used in the future. Algorithms should be improved to be implemented, evaluated and used as a real-time diagnostic tool for early warning systems locating any nutritional shortage. Thus, this makes it feasible for real commercial greenhouse configurations and might be a beneficial tool in the future to help farmers manage their fertilisers better and produce crops with more efficiency.
Conclusion | Quality of the Environment
In summary, the environment affects the electrical potential of plants and certain environmental stimuli elicit particular reactions in live cells that can transfer an electrical signal to the responsive area. Electrical signals have been associated with changes in respiration and photosynthesis rates that have been seen in response to pollination, phloem transport and the rapid, systemic deployment of plant defences, providing local stimulation information to other cells, tissues and organs to make them respond appropriately.
- British Council (2017) Interview with invisible flock: ‘talking about art and technology as two separable things is simply not reasonable anymore’, British Council Indonesia. Available at: https://www.britishcouncil.id/en/uk-indonesia-2016-18/stories/interview-invisible-flock (Accessed: 18 May 2023).
- Camps, C. (2021) Early diagnosis of iron deficiency in commercial tomato crop using electrical signals, Frontiers. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsufs.2021.631529/full (Accessed: 17 May 2023).
- Digital Nativ (2019) The Nada Bumi ‘Solo’ – Reading the Electrical Signals in Plants. Indonesia: Digital Native.
- Flock, I. (2019) Nada Bumi (Earth tones)- revisited, Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/@InvisibleFlock/nada-bumi-earth-tones-revisted-34d0545bc6c0 (Accessed: 18 May 2023).
- Invisible Flock (2021) Nada Bumi, Invisible Flock. Available at: http://invisibleflock.com/portfolio/nada-bumi/ (Accessed: 18 May 2023).
- SUN, J.-Q. et al. (2023) ‘The monitoring of plant physiology and ecology: From materials to flexible devices’, Chinese Journal of Analytical Chemistry, 51(2). doi:10.1016/j.cjac.2022.100211.
- Volkov, A.G. (2006) Plant Electrophysiology: Theory and methods. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer.
- Yudina, L. et al. (2021) Electrophysiology as a path to sustainable crop and food production, Frontiers. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/research-topics/37101/electrophysiology-as-a-path-to-sustainable-crop-and-food-production#overview (Accessed: 17 May 2023).