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These plants can alert their owners when they’re thirsty

Plants don’t usually say much. So, it can be harder to understand what they need compared to more vocal organisms such as humans. But, just like us and our nerves, plants send important messages from cell to cell via electrical signals. Now, with technology that helps analyze those signals, we may better understand what’s really eating at our greener brethren.

When plants get stressed because of hunger, thirst, or insect attacks, they relay signals about that stress between cells. Roots may send signals when the plant is thirsty, for instance. Until now, farmers have relied solely on secondary indicators for finding problems with their crops, for instance by checking under roots for insects or looking for signs of drought, which can be labor-intensive. A new technology, PhytlSigns, pairs this electrophysiological knowledge with artificial intelligence to allow plants to “tell” growers when they need water, nutrients, or pesticides.

The scientists at Vivent, the Swiss deep tech company that created PhytlSigns, have custom-built algorithms that cater to specific stressors. Plants are physically hooked up to electrodes, like a human on an ECG machine, making it possible to remotely view up-to-date information about their basil, eggplant, or cannabis plants.

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