Researchers have made an exciting new discovery about the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula). It has been long known that the carnivorous plant uses electrical signals to close its leaf lobes to capture its prey.
Now, an interdisciplinary team of scientists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), the Helmholtz Institute Mainz (HIM), the Biocenter of Julius-Maximilians-Universität of Würzburg (JMU), and the Physikalisch-Technisch Bundesanstalt (PTB) in Berlin has proved that these electrical signals generate magnetic fields.
"You could say the investigation is a little like performing an MRI scan in humans," said in a statement physicist Anne Fabricant, a doctoral candidate in Professor Dmitry Budker's research group at JGU and HIM. "The problem is that the magnetic signals in plants are very weak, which explains why it was extremely difficult to measure them with the help of older technologies."
Fabricant added that this discovery had never been confirmed before. But achieving it was no easy task.
The research team had to use atomic magnetometers that are more attractive for biological applications because they do not require cryogenic cooling and can also be miniaturized.
The researchers detected magnetic signals with an amplitude of up to 0.5 picotesla from the plant. This measurement is millions of times weaker than the Earth's magnetic field. "The signal magnitude recorded is similar to what is observed during surface measurements of nerve impulses in animals," explained Fabricant.
The physicists now hope that their noninvasive technologies may one day be used in agriculture for crop-plant diagnostics. They could, for instance, detect electromagnetic responses to temperature changes, pests, or chemical influences without the use of electrodes which can damage plants.
The discovery could lead to entirely new ways of approaching agriculture and its related activities as, up until now, biomagnetism has mostly been used in humans and animals, not plants.
The results of the study have been published in Scientific Reports.