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Plants embedded with nanotubes

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) achieved a 30% increase in a plant’s ability to harvest solar energy by embedding carbon nanotubes – sheets of graphene rolled up like straws – in the plant cell organelle, or chloroplast, which is where photosynthesis takes place (Nature Materials, March 16, 2014). The graphene sheets can absorb sunlight and transform it into a flow of electrons. The scientists also ascertained that modified carbon nanotubes can detect the gas nitric oxide, an environmental pollutant common in the atmosphere. This discovery makes the so-called bionic plants candidates for future use as biochemical sensors to monitor environmental conditions. The MIT research group believes that the bionic plant could be applied in new biomaterials used to harvest solar energy, self-repairing materials, and pesticide detectors.