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Swedish researchers have managed to craft flexible electronic circuits inside a rose. They employed flexible electronics that are made from pliable organic materials. These materials could eventually be compatible with flesh tissues, and are the subject of research into using them in diagnostic tools and for treatment.

“Organic electronics is booming in the area of medical applications,” says Magnus Berggren, a materials scientist and electrical engineer at Linköping University, Norrköping, in Sweden.

Berggren was prompted to pursue this research about 15 years ago, when a colleague asked whether it would be possible to put electronic circuits inside trees to eavesdrop to the biochemical processes going on there. If that was possible, then it should be possible to control when a tree flowers or blooms.

While genetic engineering research has allowed for far greater control over plants’ functions than was previously thought possible, such applications are difficult to get approved in Sweden. “We felt those technologies were never going to make it into the forests and fields here,” Berggren says. So instead he and his colleagues decided to pursue the route electronic plants.

They thought of using plants’ internal architecture to assemble devices on the inside. To achieve this they created polymer-based “wires” in the plant’s xylem – the tubelike channel that transports water to the plant’s leaves through its stem.

After trying more than a dozen different polymers, they settled on an organic electronic building block called PEDOT-S:H. When they placed it in water, the rose stem pulled the polymer up the xylem channels and through the roots. The polymer chains then linked with each other, into continuous stings as long as ten centimetres. When tested, they found out that these wires could conduct electricity.

Berggren’s team then added electronic patches on the surface of the stems to create transistors capable of switching the current in the wires on and off.

Using a set of different techniques, the team managed to create a set of “pixels” in the plant, and by applying different voltages they could change their colours to create a living display.

What real-world applications could this have is not yet clear, even if it is cool. Potentially, it could be used to delay or speed up the onset of flowering to protect plants from harsh weather conditions. However, this would be a long way off.