Bionic plant
A bionic plant able to photosynthesise more efficiently than a normal plant has been developed by MIT scientists.Creative commons

A team of scientists have developed the world's first bionic plant, capable of absorbing light 30% more effectively than normal plants.

By integrating carbon nanotubes into the leaves of several lab plants, the scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were able to replicate and improve upon a plant's natural ability to photosynthesise.

The research, published in the latest issue of the science journal Nature Materials, details how the nanotubes were directed into the energy-producing chloroplasts through pores on the plants leaves without causing any damage to the plant.

Once inside, the nanotubes embedded themselves into the chloroplast's membranes and markedly improved the plant's photosynthesising properties.

An emerging scientific field

Lead researcher of the MIT team, Professor Michael Strano, believes that the properties of plants make them "very attractive" as a technology platform.

"They repair themselves, they're environmentally stable outside, they survive in harsh environments, and they provide their own power source and water distribution," he said.

The transformation of plants through technology in this way is part of a new scientific field dubbed "plant nanobionics".

Bionic leaf
Carbon nanotubes (orange) embedded in the chloroplast of a leaf.Juan Pablo Giraldo, Nicole Iverson

"This is a marvelous demonstration of how nanotechnology can be coupled with synthetic biology to modify and enhance the function of living organisms - in this case plants," James Collins, professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University told MIT News.

"The authors nicely show that self-assembling nanoparticles can be used to enhance the photosynthetic capacity of plants, as well as serve as plant-based biosensors and stress reducers."

The scientists hope that their research will eventually lead to modified plants being used for a variety of applications, including self-powered detectors for chemical weapons and pollution monitors. "The potential is really endless," Strano said.