A new artificial organic neuron can fuse fully with a living plant

And this method could enhance sensitive human prosthetics.
Derya Ozdemir
Thousands of organic chemical transistors can be printed in a small area on thin plastic foil.Linköping University/Thor Balkhed

A group of researchers has produced an artificial organic neuron, or a nerve cell, that can be integrated with a living plant and an artificial organic synapse for the first time.

The researchers used the carnivorous Venus flytrap to demonstrate how they can guide the biological system with the artificial organic system, which is made from printed organic electrochemical transistors, and get them to communicate.

Their inventive approach enabled them to utilize electrical pulses from the artificial nerve cell to cause the plant’s leaves to close, despite the fact that no fly had entered the trap.

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Engineering artificial nerve cells

The study's origins date back to 2018 when a group of Linköping University researchers became the first to construct complementary and printable organic electrochemical circuits. In other words, both n-type and p-type polymers conduct negative and positive charges, respectively. Printed complementary organic electrochemical transistors were made available as a result of this.

The organic transistors were then optimized by the researchers so that they could be made in printing presses on thin plastic foil. The researchers stated that thousands of transistors can be produced on a single plastic substrate.

The scientists employed printed transistors to emulate the neurons and synapses of the biological system in collaboration with researchers from Lund and Gothenburg, according to the study published in Nature Communications.

"For the first time, we’re using the transistor’s ability to switch based on ion concentration to modulate the spiking frequency," said Padinhare Cholakkal Harikesh, post-doctoral researcher at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics, who take part in the study.

From prostheses to soft robotics

The signal that drives the biological system to react is provided by the spiking frequency. During the study, the researchers also discovered that the neuron-synapse link exhibits a learning behavior known as Hebbian learning. It was seen that the synapse stores information, which increases the effectiveness of signaling.

"We’ve developed ion-based neurons, similar to our own, that can be connected to biological systems. Organic semiconductors have numerous advantages – they’re biocompatible, biodegradable, soft and formable. They only require low voltage to operate, which is completely harmless to both plants and vertebrates", explained Chi-Yuan Yang, post-doctoral researcher at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics.

The researchers hope that artificial nerve cells can be employed for sensitive human prostheses, implantable systems for neurological disease relief, and soft intelligent robotics.

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