Home Education A carnivorous plant with remote control? – Scientific American

A carnivorous plant with remote control? – Scientific American

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Karen Hopkin: This is Scientific American’s 60-second science. I’m Karen Hopkin.

They say you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. But what if you had access to remote-controlled carnivorous plants? Because researchers have created a biologically inspired system… an artificial neuron, if you will, that can make a Venus flytrap click.

Simone Fabiano: Hello, my name is Simone Fabiano. I am an associate professor at Linköping University in Sweden.

Hopkin: Fabiano developed a trap device using nerve cells as a sort of biological blueprint.

Fabiano: How our biological neurons work, they integrate information from different inputs over time, perform calculations, and communicate the results to other neurons via voltage pulses.

Hopkin: Now, standard silicon-based systems can also deliver electrical pulses. But if you want to combine them with something living… to produce bionic prostheses or create any type of brain/machine interface… well, they suffer from a few limitations…

Fabiano: …such as rigidity, poor biocompatibility, complex circuit structures, and operating mechanisms that are fundamentally different from those of biological systems.

Hopkin: To smooth out biological integration, Fabiano built his system from polymers that conduct like electrons…like everyday electronics…and ions, which is how neurons do the job. These are ions that…

Fabiano: … enable communication between biological and artificial neurons.

Hopkin: Each part of the artificial neuron…which the researchers describe in the journal Nature…has a direct counterpart in its biological model.

Fabiano: We have an input terminal that acts like a dendrite of a biological neuron…

Hopkin: This dendrite collects incoming electrical signals and sends them to a capacitor that…like a neuron cell body…integrates the information. Then, as soon as the voltage reaches a certain threshold, a pulse is triggered through organic amplifiers that mimic the axon of a nerve cell.

Fabiano: We use the ion concentration-dependent switching characteristics of our transistors to modulate the peak frequency, which is largely analogous to biological systems.

Hopkin: So the ions control the current that flows from the artificial neuron to its target… in this case, a living Venus flytrap… causing its leaf appendages to rapidly close. All in all, a dramatic demonstration of the potential of neuromorphic design that should give interested engineers… and fruit flies… something to watch out for.

For Scientific American’s 60-Second Science, I’m Karen Hopkin.

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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