Ensuring regular access to high-quality food for everyone is one of the mainstays of society. Unfortunately, food security is constantly threatened by many unpredictable factors that involve agriculture. Controlling both development and behaviour of the plant could contribute to make crops more productive and sustainable. We, Valencia UPV team, propose ChatterPlant, a SynBio-based solution to communicate with plants. We designed an optogenetic circuit that works as interface between plants and humans. Bearing that in mind, we engineered ChatterBox that regulates precisely plant growth conditions while translating plant information into an intelligible one.
Plant’s communication ability relies on the plant-human interface comprised by our designed optogenetic circuit. This modular system is triggered by red/far-red light inducible switch, thus allowing users to control expression of any desired pathway easily. Since white light in aerial parts could interfere with the circuit signalling, these light stimuli would be introduced by illuminating plant’s roots. Furthermore, circuit's modularity allows to cover almost any users' necessities, personalizing the final element in the system. As a proof of concept, we resolve to regulate flowering periods in order to provide more control over crops. Thus, we intend to make a positive impact in global food security progress. However, we do not only intend to give orders to plants but also to acquire relevant information from them. Therefore, we generated a second communication channel that allows plants to send us information about their current status (i.g. metabolites levels, phytohormones levels, pathogen presence…). In our project, we chose to activate the expression of a fluorescent protein when infection occurs, making it easily detectable.
In order to achieve that control, we developed ChatterBox with the aim of translating our orders into light stimuli through roots and also tracking plant growth and development. Controlling external factors and regulating plant’s features allow us to increase plant versatility and adaptative capacity. Furthermore, a detection system is permanently checking for stress signals, so we could immediately actuate in consequence. With this project, our team intends to help in developing a non-climate dependent agriculture, as well as in giving farmers more control over their crops. Thus, we aspire to ensure food security through human-plant interaction.