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Listening to Plants

Plants have been found to ‘talk’ to us: when they are very dry they will emit ultrasound and this gives us information about the condition of the plant, whether it needs water or not. By analyzing these ultrasounds, the researchers are able to extract properties from the plant that previously only could be obtained by destroying the plant.

Improve growth and breeding of crops

The source of the sound is the nucleation or seeding of tiny air bubbles trapped in the plant’s water-carrying vessels similar to the arteries in our own body. The researchers have realized that listening to these frequencies with a special microphone tells us about the size and stiffness of these Xylem vessels. Based on this insight, they have developed a new methodology to measure the dimension of the Xylem vessels, that are essential for the plant’s transport of water and nutrients from their roots to the leaves. This provides a useful new pathway to study and control the internal development of living plants, that can improve growth and breeding of crops, flowers and fruit.

What's next?

With promising proof-of-concept results, the next step for this innovative idea is to test the method of different plant species. Further, the researchers are interested to develop cheaper and more sensitive microphones and to improve the accuracy and speed of analysing the sound from plants, across a wide range of ultrasound frequencies. Currently the researchers are looking into the possibility of using graphene, as a more sensitive material for ultrasound, high-frequency microphones.  


TUDDr. Satadal DuttaDr. Gerard VerbiestProf. dr. Peter SteenekenAgTech Institute
WURDr. Elias Kaiser.


Plantenna – Internet of Plants

In Plantenna, one of the research programmes under the 4TU umbrella 'High Tech for a Sustainable Future', plants are fitted with sensors and linked together in an ‘internet of plants’. The readings collected are used for climate and weather monitoring and to achieve higher crop yields. Read more about this consortium that consists of scientists from the four Dutch universities of technology and led by Professor Peter Steeneken.
There is also a short animated video about the programme.