A team of researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has introduced a gene for a fluorescent protein (roGFP2) in a potato plant which is sensitive to the chemical molecules of stress and turns the plant itself into a sensor through genetics.
When the plants are subjected to stress such as cold temperatures or a lack of water, they release antioxidant chemical molecules, like glutathione, to neutralize the free radicals. Thanks to the work of the researchers, the plants under stress producing these reactive molecules become fluorescent. This fluorescence, not visible to the naked eye, is detectable with a special camera.
Being able to detect the plant’s water stress level earlier would help limit harvest losses, save water and reduce the use of phytosanitary products. “For farmers, receiving an early warning sign that the plants are not well would help them take appropriate measures to prevent losses and protect food resources,” explains Shilo Rosenwaser, leader of the study published in Plant Physiology.
Potato in normal conditions (left), potato under stress (right) © Shilo Rosenwasser, Hebrew University
A solution being commercialized by the InnerPlant start-up for tomatoes this time. The tomato will produce a different color for each type of stress (depending on the proteins used), like the InnerTomato launched in May 2021.
Another advantage: this development would also help detect infections ahead of time. “We could reduce the potato losses if we could identify the ones affected by fungi in the fields and get rid of them then. If we miss the first signs of an infection, the fungus spreads to the other potatoes and the losses continue to grow throughout the supply chain,” explains Shely Aronov, founder of InnerPlant.
Some companies have already developed microsensors to track the state of the crops in real time or the evapotranspiration levels, but here, it is the plant itself which serves as the sensor. “We have excellent plant biosensor tools in laboratories. But now, we must bring this technology to the fields,” explains Shely Aronov.