I have always been interested in language and the ways it allows us to share ideas, perceptions, and experiences beyond the boundaries of individual reality. As a plant scientist and breeder, I’m excited to join the CROPPS team of biologists, engineers, and computer and information scientists as we seek to create a two-way communication system with plants.
Plants are responsive, living organisms that use complex forms of communication to explore and respond to the world in which they live. Their ‘language’ is mediated by chemical, optical and electrical signaling systems that challenge human understanding. Plants use these systems to exchange information with other members of their community – other plants, insects, and the diverse array of organisms in their microbiomes.
As organisms, plants lie at the base of the world’s food chain and feed all life. They also play a dominant role in defining our climate’s future. Their survival is our survival, and yet, our current interactions and communications with plant systems are primitive. We lack the tools to probe the deep biological processes that mediate how they organize, process, record, and share information; how they respond to environmental stimuli; and how they select from a range of possible responses. We know plants communicate readily with other organisms, but they use a language that is strange and unfamiliar to human beings.
CROPPS researchers will invent new technologies and foster scientific discoveries to develop new communication tools (living nodes on the Internet of Living Things). These tools will allow us to capture, transmit, integrate, and understand plant signals; to make discoveries and predictions; and to send return signals in response. If we can establish a two-way dialogue with living plant systems, we can gain insight into real-time biological processes in ways never before possible. That insight, driven by deep respect for the living world, has profound implications for reshaping human responses to climate change, environmental degradation, and global hunger.
Research themes: Plant Communication
Photo by Robert Barker