To know when a plant is thirsty, print a sensor right on the leaf


In Massachusetts, MIT engineers have created sensors that can be printed onto plant leaves that will reveal when the plants are experiencing a water shortage. Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering has already begun working with a large agricultural producer to develop these sensors for use on crops.

“This appears to be the earliest indicator of drought that we have for agricultural applications,” Strano says. “It’s hard to get this information any other way. You can put sensors into the soil, or you can do satellite imaging and mapping, but you never really know what a particular plant is detecting as the water potential.”

The sensor takes advantage of plants’ stomata — the small pores in the surface of a leaf. By measuring the opening and closing of the pores, the researchers found that they can detect, within two days, when a plant is experiencing water stress.