Review Article | Published:

Nanobiotechnology approaches for engineering smart plant sensors

Abstract

Nanobiotechnology has the potential to enable smart plant sensors that communicate with and actuate electronic devices for improving plant productivity, optimize and automate water and agrochemical allocation, and enable high-throughput plant chemical phenotyping. Reducing crop loss due to environmental and pathogen-related stresses, improving resource use efficiency and selecting optimal plant traits are major challenges in plant agriculture industries worldwide. New technologies are required to accurately monitor, in real time and with high spatial and temporal resolution, plant physiological and developmental responses to their microenvironment. Nanomaterials are allowing the translation of plant chemical signals into digital information that can be monitored by standoff electronic devices. Herein, we discuss the design and interfacing of smart nanobiotechnology-based sensors that report plant signalling molecules associated with health status to agricultural and phenotyping devices via optical, wireless or electrical signals. We describe how nanomaterial-mediated delivery of genetically encoded sensors can act as tools for research and development of smart plant sensors. We assess performance parameters of smart nanobiotechnology-based sensors in plants (for example, resolution, sensitivity, accuracy and durability) including in vivo optical nanosensors and wearable nanoelectronic sensors. To conclude, we present an integrated and prospective vision on how nanotechnology could enable smart plant sensors that communicate with and actuate electronic devices for monitoring and optimizing individual plant productivity and resource use.

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Acknowledgements

This work was funded by the National Science Foundation under grant no. 1817363 to J.P.G. Funding by the Volkswagen Foundation is acknowledged by S.K.

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Correspondence to Juan Pablo Giraldo.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information: Nature Nanotechnology thanks Jorge Gardea-Torresdey and other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Fig. 1: Nanobiotechnology approaches enable research and development of smart plant sensors that communicate plant chemical signals to agricultural and phenotyping equipment.
Fig. 2: Genetically encoded nanoscale sensors for plant signalling molecules have the potential to be delivered to plant genomes by engineered nanomaterials.
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