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Novel Sensor can Revolutionize Screening for Herbicide Resistance in Plants

Researchers have developed the first-ever nanosensor to facilitate the rapid testing of synthetic auxin plant hormones. The novel nanosensors are safer and less difficult than the available approaches for testing a plant’s response to compounds like herbicide. This can be transformative in enhancing agricultural production and learning plant growth.

Novel Sensor can Revolutionize Screening for Herbicide Resistance in Plants.
Illustration of novel in planta CoPhMoRe nanosensors for the detection of synthetic auxin plant hormones, NAA and 2,4-D Photo Credit: Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART). Image Credit: Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology

The study was done by researchers from the Disruptive & Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural Precision (DiSTAP) Interdisciplinary Research Group (IRG) of Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), MIT’s research enterprise in Singapore, and their local collaborators from Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

The scientists developed sensors for two plant hormones, namely, 1-naphthalene acetic acid (NAA) and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D). These are widely used in the farming sector for regulating plant growth and as herbicides. Available techniques for detecting NAA and 2,4-D pose damage to plants and are ineffective in offering instant monitoring and information.

With the concept of corona phase molecular recognition (CoPhMoRe) developed by the Strano Lab at SMART DiSTAP and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as the basis, the novel sensors enable the detection of available NAA and 2,4-D in living plants, quickly. This offers plant information in real-time without any damage.

The researchers successfully tested both of the sensors on several day-to-day crops, including pak choi, spinach and rice in different planting mediums such as soil, hydroponic and plant tissue culture.

The study titled “Nanosensor Detection of Synthetic Auxins In Planta using Corona Phase Molecular Recognition” published in the journal ACS Sensors explains the efficient use of synthetic auxins in agriculture and holds tremendous potential to advance plant biology study.

According to DiSTAP co-lead Principal Investigator Professor Michael Strano and Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, who leads The Strano Lab at MIT, “Our CoPhMoRe technique has previously been used to detect compounds such as hydrogen peroxide and heavy-metal pollutants like arsenic — but this is the first successful case of CoPhMoRe sensors developed for detecting plant phytohormones that regulate plant growth and physiology, such as sprays to prevent premature flowering and dropping of fruits.”

This technology can replace current state-of-the-art sensing methods which are laborious, destructive, and unsafe,” the researchers added.

Among the two sensors, the 2,4-D nanosensor also exhibited the ability to detect herbicide susceptibility. This allows agricultural scientists and farmers to quickly explore how vulnerable and resistant different plants are to herbicides, with no requirement to monitor crop or weed growth over days.

This could be incredibly beneficial in revealing the mechanism behind how 2,4-D works within plants and why crops develop herbicide resistance.

Dr. Rajani Sarojam, Principal Investigator, Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory

Dr. Mervin Chun-Yi Ang, a Research Scientist at DiSTAP, stated, “Our research can help the industry gain a better understanding of plant growth dynamics and has the potential to completely change how the industry screens for herbicide resistance, eliminating the need to monitor crop or weed growth over days.”

It can be applied across a variety of plant species and planting mediums, and could easily be used in commercial setups for rapid herbicide susceptibility testing, such as urban farms.

Dr. Mervin Chun-Yi Ang, Research Scientist, Disruptive & Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural Precision, Interdisciplinary Research Group, Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology

Using nanosensors for in planta detection eliminates the need for extensive extraction and purification processes, which saves time and money. They also use very low-cost electronics, which makes them easily adaptable for commercial setups,” concluded NTU Professor Mary Chan-Park Bee Eng.

Journal Reference:

Ang, M. C.-Y., et al. (2021) Nanosensor Detection of Synthetic Auxins In Planta using Corona Phase Molecular Recognition. ACS Sensors.

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