Research highlight

Bionic plants

Nature Materials

March 17, 2014

The photosynthetic activity of plants can be enhanced by delivering synthetic nanoparticles that spontaneously infiltrate into chloroplasts - organelles in plant cells that house the photosynthetic system - reports a study published online in Nature Materials. Using nanoparticles to both enhance the native functions of living plants and impart them with non-native functions opens up the possibility of creating synthetic materials that grow and repair themselves using sunlight, water and carbon dioxide.

Michael Strano and colleagues show that, both in plant extracts and living leaves, carbon nanotubes and polymer nanoparticles containing ceria - a rare-earth metal oxide - can pierce and localize within the chloroplasts, enhancing their photosynthetic activity. The researchers show that the enhancement occurs because the nanoparticles broaden the spectrum of captured light and may enhance the plants’ natural process of removing radical oxygen species, which can damage the photosynthetic system. Moreover, they also demonstrate that the nanoparticles can enable living leaves to perform unnatural functions, such as detecting the presence of the pollutant nitric oxide.

doi: 10.1038/nmat3890

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