For many years, scientists have been trying to unravel the mystery of what really goes on in plants in the parts that are not visible to us - That is, around the roots that lie underground hidden by dense soil. Now, thanks to researchers from Scotland's University of Abertay Dundee, they may finally be able to solve this mystery that is as old as the Universe itself!
The breakthrough made by a team led by Lionel Dupuy at the University's research lab - The James Hutton Institute, is the creation of a synthetic soil, as clear as glass. The transparent dirt that took two years to develop is made from a composite of Naflon, a material currently used in fuel cells, batteries and a wide range of other devices. It also seems to be able to replicate the soil chemistry that allows plants to thrive.
While Naflon itself is naturally transparent, to make it crystal clear so that everything that happens around can be observed, the scientists mixed it with a proprietary water-based solution. In order to mimic the soil particles so that they are able to form channels and retain water and nutrients, the scientists shaped the Naflon into little pellets.
This transparent soil is causing a lot of buzz because of the impact it will have on everything pertaining to plants - From studying crop genetics to plant diseases and even, contamination. In fact, Dupuy and his colleagues have already used the soil to analyze how some deadly strains of E.coli bacteria interact with lettuce roots.
In order to do so they created a modified version of the bacteria with the help of a fluorescent green protein extracted from jellyfish. This fluorescence together with the clear soil helped them observe with unprecedented clarity how the bacteria formed colonies around the root and contaminated the entire plant - Once they completely understand how this happens, researchers will be able to find ways to stop the transfer of this deadly bacteria from entering our fresh produce like lettuce and strawberries! Being able to observe the way roots absorb nutrients, could also help scientists develop crops with better root systems so that the plants do not need as many fertilizers.
The next challenge for the researchers is to figure out a cost effective way to produce the transparent soil so that it can be duplicated by scientists all over the world, and used for various research projects - All resulting in us having healthier plants and vegetables.
Resources: gizmag.com,blogs.discovermagazine.com, dailymail.co.uk