An electronic nose that smells plants' pain

Device can detect distress signals from plants that are harmed, under attack

2:13pm, October 17, 2008

It turns out the best way to hear a plant scream is to smell it.

Scientists are using an electronic nose tailored to eavesdrop on plants that have been damaged or are under attack. The nose successfully discriminated among the various distress signals different plants emit, depending on the pests plaguing them — discerning, for example, a tobacco hornworm attack from assault by powdery mildew.

The electronic nose, or e-nose, could be a valuable tool for monitoring pests in commercial greenhouses, allowing for better targeted pest control, researchers report in an upcoming Environmental Science & Technology. A tailored e-nose could “nip the problem in the bud,” says Nigel Paul, of Lancaster University in England, who led the research.

Currently, someone skilled at identifying pests must do a walk through of the greenhouse and hope to visually detect a disease or attacker, Paul adds.

This article is available only to subscribing members. Join SSP today or Log in.

More from Science News