A new system to monitor sugar levels in plants or trees in real time, for the purpose of optimising growth conditions, in the face of climate change. Seems futuristic? It is here, in any case.
Bio4Energy scientists with expertise in feedstock research teamed up with partners in Sweden, Italy, France, Greece to create cheap-to-produce sensors that gauge the levels and whereabouts of sugar in plants, as they vary over the day and with changing climatic conditions.
The idea is to have a versatile way for researchers to implant small electrochemical sensors directly in the plant to monitor the fluctuations in the way in which the sugar is transported stored in the plant. The results are directly visible in the researchers monitoring equipment.
With this kind of research tool, it will be possible to gauge optimal conditions for growth for various types of plants, for instance which kind of soil composition, soil moisture and temperature conditions should be preferred.
"This is relevant in terms of controlling the carbon allocation to the wood to reap more biomass, to create various use applications in a more long-term perspective”, he added.
How can the results be implemented in biorefinery, which is the focus area of the research environment Bio4Energy?
“We could for example measure the speed with which the sugar is released from the biomass, in the conversion process [to fuels or chemicals]. Sensors placed in the [conversion] reactor could inform us of what happens on the inside”, according to Niittylä, who leads the research and development platform Bio4Energy Feedstock.
Funding from the European Union has enabled the development of this concept and the creation of the sensors over a four-year period ending in August this year. Niittylä and professor Torgny Näsholm are the chief participants from Bio4Energy and the overall project is headed up by scientists at Lindköping University, Sweden.
The sensors have been successfully tested on hybrid aspen trees. The researchers will go onto test the sensors on other plants.
A scientific article has just been published in one of the journals in the prestigious Nature series;
Diacci Ch, Abedi T, Lee JW, Gabrielsson EO, Berggren M, Simon DT, Niittylä T, Stavrinidou E. 2021. Diurnal in vivo xylem sap glucose and sucrose monitoring using implantable organic electrochemical transistor sensors. iScience 24 (1) 101966. 22 January.
For more about the EU project HyPhOE, go here.