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Electronic Soil Boosts Plant Growth, Offers Future Food Solutions: Study

Linköping University's research in hydroponics reveals a new electrically conductive substrate that significantly enhances barley seedling growth.

Ravisha Poddar
Representational Image (Courtesy: Freepik)

A team of researchers at Linköping University has developed an electrically conductive cultivation medium, coined 'eSoil'. According to the research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the new eSoil promises a significant boost in crop growth particularly in hydroponic systems.

The team has demonstrated that barley seedlings can experience up to 50 percent more growth in 15 days when their roots are electrically stimulated in this novel substrate. This finding is especially relevant given the rising interest in hydroponics – a soilless cultivation method that relies on water, nutrients, and an anchoring substrate for plant growth.

Hydroponics, characterized by its water efficiency and nutrient recirculation, stands out as a sustainable agricultural method. It negates the need for soil, ensuring that plants receive precise nutrient levels, thereby reducing water usage and nutrient loss. This method is particularly advantageous for urban farming and in regions with limited arable land or harsh environmental conditions.

What sets eSoil apart is its composition: a blend of cellulose, the most abundant biopolymer, and a conductive polymer known as PEDOT. This mixture, though not novel in itself, is being utilized for plant cultivation for the first time, creating a unique interface for plant roots. This approach contrasts sharply with previous methods that relied on high voltage for root stimulation, as eSoil operates on low energy consumption without the associated high voltage risks.

The study's findings extend beyond barley, as hydroponics is already being employed for various crops like lettuce, herbs, and certain vegetables. The potential for broader application in grain cultivation, traditionally not associated with hydroponics, is particularly exciting. Moreover, this technology opens up possibilities for vertical farming, maximizing spatial efficiency.

Despite the promising results, the researcher cautions that hydroponics is not a universal solution for global food security. However, it can significantly contribute to food production, especially in areas where traditional farming faces constraints.

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