Innovation That Matters

Image of a transgenic soybean | Photo source Inner Plant

Project aims to turn plants into living sensors

Food & Drink

The development involves recording plant DNA so that crops can communicate through fluorescent proteins produced in their leaves

Spotted:  San Francisco based agtech company InnerPlant is working on a new project to change plant DNA to create “living sensors” that will “give plants a voice” and  mitigate crop loss, according to the company. So far, InnerPlant has raised $5.65 million (€4.73 million) in funding, according to a press release.  

The round was led by MS&AD Ventures, the investment arm of Japan’s MS&AD Insurance Group, alongside participation from Bee Partners, Up West, and TAU Ventures.  

InnerPlant features a data platform that increases field health by spotting threats to plant growth – pests, nutrient deficiencies, water stress, etc. To do so, the company re-codes DNA so that crops can communicate through fluorescent proteins produced in their leaves. Then, when looked at with the proper technology, the modified proteins light-up. According to the company, the mechanism allows plants to be transformed into living sensors that warn farmers about the presence of fungi, pests, drought, or nutritional stress – within hours, not weeks, of a problem arising. 

“Plants communicate all the time, sending chemical signals to warn each other about threats. InnerPlant makes it possible to understand what plants are saying,” says the company.  

The complimentary app featuring InnerPlant’s augmented reality technology allows farmers to photograph their fields and identify possible concerns. The signals can also be picked up via drone and satellite. What’s more, it only takes tens of these sensor plants for each field. InnerPlant claims that the concept is based on the natural process of signals that plants transmit to one another when they are in a state of threat. Recoding the DNA to incorporate the protein simply “amplifies” these natural signals, says the company.  

InnerPlant released its first product, “the InnerTomato”, in 2020, which featured the DNA recording technology. With the new financial resources, the company will work on extending the technology to be used in Soy crops.  

Written By: Katrina Lane

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