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This is the way we unveil the Secret Life of Plants.



In an earlier article in Innovation Origins, I wrote about how farmers can maintain their crops’ health by detecting possible infestations through the smell. Using the electronic sense of smell makes it possible to spot the threat of an outbreak before an individual even notices it.

Another way to receive early warning is to monitor the electrical signals present in the system. When I first heard of the software that a Swiss company is working on, I instantly thought of the book from 1973, “The Secret Life of Plants,” written by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. The book states that plants possess “feelings and emotions” and can identify their own “killer” of the neighboring plant. To demonstrate this, the plant was linked to an electronic lie detector. The detector would be activated if the person who cut the plant was in the room. However, documents were later made that proved the assertions contained in the book.

In addition, the book was the basis for a documentary in 1979 and Stevie Wonder’s composition with the same name.

There isn’t any “paranormal” communication between plants and human beings, but there are some biological physiological signals that we are getting more proficient in understanding with technology.

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Electrical signals

There are many ways the way that plants transmit electrical signals. One of them is through actions potentials (APs). This is. It works by changes in ions (gradient flux) concentrations like chlorine, potassium, hydrogen, sodium, and calcium in the plant cell. These changes could trigger diffusion or flux processes. This allows plants to distribute information over a wider area. One example is sending signals from the roots that the plant is to stomata located high up in the plants. For the tomato plant growing in a greenhouse with high-tech technology, the signal can easily travel an area of between 10 and 15 meters

If the roots cannot soak up enough of the water in the soil, the signal is sent to the stomata of the leaves. In ideal conditions, these stomata can take in CO2 while also allowing the exchange of oxygen and water with the greenhouse air. If the plant isn’t able to take in enough water, it has to ensure that as little water as it can is lost and that its stomata are closed. Thus, the signal to provide this happens could be transmitted via the electrical signal.

The optimal utilization of resources

As a cultivator, you would like your crop to flourish under optimal conditions. It is essential to be aware when the requirements for your plant are not ideal. This will enable the grower to act promptly and guarantee better growth conditions. A balance between too much and excessive water is good for plants. If there is an issue with water supply within the soil of a tomato crop, we have sensors that measure the level of it. Using this type of sensor makes it possible to see whether there is the amount of water needed. This is an enormous improvement over the way things were conducted before. This is why the operation occurred after it became evident on the plant that there was insufficient water available, or the plant was likely to collapse.

But, this kind of measurement of moisture is an indirect measurement. It could be that the water is present; however, the plant isn’t yet in a position to absorb enough water. This could be because, for instance, the salt content in the substrate is excessive or the substrate is extremely cold, and the roots become less active.

This is where analyzing the electrical signals generated by the system is helpful! If you can measure these signals, you’ll immediately be aware of what’s happening and can respond according to the situation! It’s a lot more pleasant to hear directly from the plant there’s not enough water available to ensure adequate photosynthesis and maximum growth.

Swiss start-up

Swiss start-up PhytelSigns is working on an app that will do what it says. The company calls this The “Fitbit for Plants.” The device is based on the insertion of needles into various places on the stem of the plant to detect electrical signals.

A considerable amount of data points are saved during this process. They are processed and processed by applying machine learning. This leads to a tremendous amount of information points continuously recorded at different points within the plant.

Based on the algorithm used, it is feasible to identify what is happening. This is the problem of using this technology and then making it work. In the above paragraph, the plant utilizes electronic signals that “communicate” various situations. However, how can you determine what it is telling you at any time?


The best way to help is the ability to trigger certain events to decode the meaning of signals. This can be accomplished in the past, for instance, by spreading the disease to the crop by infecting it with specific bugs and conditions, which resulted in drought and heat stress and altered the intensity of light.

The sheer volume of information coupled with the fact that various factors both inside and outside of the plant affect each other is a challenge to come up with a suitable “dictionary” for these measurements. But, this is an excellent example of how a farmer can utilize technology to help manage their crops to a greater degree.

It is imperative to conduct more research before any grower can implement this technology in their greenhouse. Presently, trials using a PhytelSigns system and others are being undertaken in the field of the Tomatoworld’s grow lab that is data-driven.

When this kind of technology becomes widely accessible, it can be utilized immediately as a next step to make adjustments instantly, even through computers for climate control, if it is determined that the greenhouse’s temperature is too low.

Local and sustainable cultivation that is sustainable and local

Sensors that could show precisely what’s happening with the plant is the ideal instrument for greenhouse cultivation based on data. This cultivation method will allow us to stop selling the products produced by our Dutch high-tech cultivation across the world. Then we will trade the technological solution we’ve developed using high-tech greenhouses and know-how instead of transporting tomatoes around the globe by plane and then assisting to construct and remotely manage high-tech production facilities. Then, this could be carried out near the consumers living in remote areas of the globe to the west and east.

So, it’s not a lie detector built into implants, but rather the detection of physical signals and a “dictionary” created with AI. It is truly fascinating the ways technology can help contribute to sustainability!

About this column

In a column that is weekly, written written by Eveline van Zeeland Eugene Franken, Katleen Gabriels, Carina Weijma, Bernd Maier-Leppla, Willemijn Bruwer, PG Kroeger and Colinda de Beer, Innovation Origins tries to determine what the future of our industry will be as. The columnists, sometimes joined by guest bloggers, each working on their own to solve the challenges of our day. To ensure that tomorrow is a good day.

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