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Scientists have created an ‘electronic soil’ capable of boosting crop growth by 50%

A groundbreaking advancement in agricultural technology has emerged from Linkoping University in Sweden, where scientists have introduced an electrically conductive “soil” designed to significantly enhance crop growth, particularly barley seedlings. This innovative soilless cultivation method, known as hydroponics, leverages a sophisticated root system activated through a unique cultivation substrate. Eleni Stavrinidou, an esteemed associate professor at Linkoping University, emphasizes the critical importance of this development amid global challenges such as a growing population and looming climate change.

Stavrinidou explains that the existing agricultural methods alone cannot sustain the planet’s food needs, prompting the exploration of alternative approaches. Hydroponics offers a tangible solution, allowing for the cultivation of food in urban landscapes under meticulously controlled conditions. The researchers’ brainchild, an electrically conductive cultivation substrate named eSoil, is specifically tailored for hydroponic cultivation.

Published in the esteemed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the groundbreaking research highlights a remarkable acceleration in barley seedling growth—up to 50% within a fortnight—when their roots are electrically stimulated. In hydroponic cultivation, plants thrive without traditional soil, relying solely on water, nutrients, and a supportive substrate for root attachment. This enclosed system enables water recycling, ensuring precise nutrient delivery to each seedling and distinguishing hydroponics from conventional methods in terms of minimal water usage and optimal nutrient retention.




Discovery: "Electronic soil" boosts crop growth by over 50% • Earth.com
Discovery: “Electronic soil” boosts crop growth by over 50%

While hydroponics has been successfully used for crops like lettuce, herbs, and select vegetables, grains have traditionally not been part of hydroponic agriculture, except for fodder purposes. However, this recent breakthrough challenges that norm, showcasing the viability of cultivating barley seedlings hydroponically with significantly improved growth rates attributed to electrical stimulation.

Stavrinidou points out that this approach accelerates seedling growth while conserving resources. The exact biological mechanisms involved remain elusive, but the researchers note that seedlings process nitrogen more efficiently under electrical stimulation. Traditionally, mineral wool serves as the cultivation substrate in hydroponics, but its non-biodegradable nature and energy-intensive production process have led researchers to seek sustainable alternatives.

Enter eSoil—a pioneering electronic cultivation substrate crafted from cellulose, the most abundant biopolymer, combined with a conductive polymer known as PEDOT. While the blend itself isn’t entirely novel, its unprecedented application in plant cultivation and the creation of a plant interface mark a groundbreaking stride. Notably, the Linkoping researchers’ “soil” boasts significantly lower energy consumption and eliminates high voltage hazards compared to prior research that employed high voltage for root stimulation.

Stavrinidou envisions a horizon filled with fresh research avenues to further enhance hydroponic cultivation. While acknowledging that hydroponics may not single-handedly resolve global food security challenges, she emphasizes its immense potential, especially in regions with limited arable land and harsh environmental conditions. As the world grapples with the need for sustainable agriculture, innovations like eSoil offer promising solutions for the future of food production.

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