Researchers develop nanosensors that can rapidly test synthetic auxin plant hormones, which are safer and less tedious than existing hormone detection methods.
Plants hormone detection remains a bottleneck in plant scientific research owing to the trace concentrations and complex components in plant crude extracts. Researchers from the Disruptive & Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural Precision (DiSTAP) Interdisciplinary Research Group (IRG) of Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), MIT’s research enterprise in Singapore and their local collaborators from Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have created a nanosensor to rapidly test synthetic auxin plant hormones. The nanosensors developed are safer and less tedious than existing techniques for testing plants’ response to compounds such as herbicide.
The scientists designed sensors for two plant hormones—1-naphthalene acetic acid (NAA) and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4D). These hormones are extensively used in the farming industry for regulating plant growth and as herbicides respectively. Existing methods to detract these two hormones cause damage to the plants and are unable to provide real-time information.
The team of scientists tested both the developed sensors on a number of everyday crops including pak choi, spinach and rice across various planting mediums such as soil, hydroponic, and plant tissue culture.
“Our CoPhMoRe technique has previously been used to detect compounds such as hydrogen peroxide and heavy-metal pollutants like arsenic—but this is the first successful case of CoPhMoRe sensors developed for detecting plant phytohormones that regulate plant growth and physiology, such as sprays to prevent premature flowering and dropping of fruits,” says DiSTAP co-lead Principal Investigator Professor Michael Strano and Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, who leads The Strano Lab at MIT. “This technology can replace current state-of-the-art sensing methods which are laborious, destructive, and unsafe.”
Upon testing, the researchers found that the 2,4D nanosensor can detect herbicide susceptibility, enabling farmers and agricultural scientists to quickly find out how vulnerable or resistant different plants are to herbicides without the need to monitor crop or weed growth over days. “This could be incredibly beneficial in revealing the mechanism behind how 2,4D works within plants and why crops develop herbicide resistance,” says DiSTAP and TLL Principal Investigator Dr. Rajani Sarojam.
“Our research can help the industry gain a better understanding of plant growth dynamics and has the potential to completely change how the industry screens for herbicide resistance, eliminating the need to monitor crop or weed growth over days,” says Dr. Mervin Chun-Yi Ang, Research Scientist at DiSTAP. “It can be applied across a variety of plant species and planting mediums, and could easily be used in commercial setups for rapid herbicide susceptibility testing, such as urban farms.”
According to the researchers, the nanosensors use very low-cost electronics, which makes them easily adaptable for commercial setups. Further, they believe that the research can facilitate more efficient use of synthetic auxins in agriculture and hold tremendous potential to advance plant biology study.
The research appeared in the journal ACS Sensors.