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Email from Spinach – A New Frontier for Monitoring Data?

Posted by Jenn Collins on March 15, 2021

From the dryads of Greek Mythology to the messages of the trees in the 2019 Pulitzer Prize fiction winner,  The Overstory, mankind has explored the idea of nature speaking to humans. Perhaps it comes from a primal desire to communicate with the world we live in? And while a forester’s claims (name?) in Smithsonian Magazine’s March 2018 issue that, “trees also communicate through the air, using pheromones and other scent signals,” were considered controversial, these rather literal ideas of listening to nature may, in some cases, actually have a factual basis. Strano Research Group and others have recently developed a system for Spinach—yes Spinach!—to send email.

Bizarre as emailing spinach may sound, these studies have been successful. Plants in general are innate experts at monitoring and responding to changing conditions around them. Spinach, in particular, has a strong capacity to be a “nanobionic” sensor: able to detect water stress, disease, and dangerous levels of metals of compounds. For example, carbon nanotubes in the spinach leaves will emit a signal in response to the plant roots detecting a specific compound in the groundwater. The cellular signal emitted in the leaves can be picked up by an infrared camera set to send an email for notification of a detection. Scientists believe that using this vegetable as a simple iron source has the potential to become the new “canary in a coal mine,” proving capable of detecting arsenic and explosives.

We’re eager to see how this and other new technology might be incorporated into every day production. If you want to know more about the growing capacity to hear the things Spinach has to say, here are some of the articles and sources we found most interesting: