Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Thirsty plants send emergency calls

10.12.2009
Independent whether we consider grapevines in the vineyard or tomatoes in the greenhouse: how well plants are being supplied with water can be viewed by an innovative magnetic probe that is simply clamped to the leaves. This novel technology promises water savings and reduced soil salination.

The probe has been developed by a team headed by Professor Ulrich Zimmermann from the Biocenter at the University of Würzburg in close mutual discussions with Dr. Dirk Zimmermann and Professor Ernst Bamberg from the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics (Frankfurt/Main). Now, after two and a half years of work, the technology is close to reaching the application stage.

Tests are still ongoing on the prototype of the probe, but interested farmers and horticulturalists are already gathering in numbers outside Zimmermann's door: "Interest in our technology is huge in Israel, Spain, Australia and other regions where farming is not possible without irrigation," says the professor.

The probe may even be an exciting prospect for the wine-growing industry in Germany given that climate change and ever-drier summers mean that here too grapevine growers are already irrigating their vineyards to ensure high yield and high quality products.

How the magnetic probe works

The probe consists of two small cylindrical magnets being roughly as thick as a pencil. They are clamped on a leaf of a plant from above and below; the magnetic force can be adjusted with a setscrew. This ensures that even the more delicate leaves can withstand the pressure exerted by the magnets.

One of the magnets contains a pressure-sensitive chip. If the leaf has been well supplied with water and is therefore plump and firm, the chip registers little pressure. As soon as the leaf looses water, the pressure rises. The pressure signals are monitored by a cable-connected transmitter having roughly the size of a cellular phone, which can be attached, for example, to the branches of the plant. This sends the pressure signals to a control unit, which stores the data and feeds it into the Internet. The telemetric data transfer to the Internet has been developed by NTBB Systemtechnik GmbH in Zeuthen near Berlin.

Ulrich Zimmermann can then see on the monitor in his office, in real time, what the situation is regarding the water supply of the little olive tree attached to the probe on the next floor down in the laboratory. But he also sees simultaneously the water status of plants growing in three plantations in Israel (oranges, olives and bananas), where the system is also currently undergoing tests.

Quick response to water shortage possible

Thirsty plants therefore send their emergency calls directly to the people concerned - to their laptop or cellular phone. In the case of water shortage growers and gardeners can then immediately turn on irrigation and see online when the plants have received sufficient water. The distress signals from the field can also be used for the automated remote irrigation control of plants.

Advantages of the magnetic probe

According to Zimmermann, the magnetic probe allows a continuous, precise, and highly sensitive measurement of the water supply to plant leaves, even out in the open field, for the first time ever. To date, irrigation technology has mostly used soil sensors, if anything, which determine the moisture content of the soil. "However, this does usually not reflect the conditions in the plant," explains Zimmermann.

The professor lists a few other advantages, such as the fact that any layperson can clamp the probe without causing damage to the leaves. The probe is designed to be used for one vegetation period, with only three to four probes needed per hectare out in the field or inside the greenhouse. The objective is a measuring system that does not entail excessively high operating costs for users. "With systematic use, the investment should pay for itself within two years," says Zimmermann.

Reduction in water consumption and soil salination

Agricultural businesses that use the magnetic probe for irrigation monitoring will find that water consumption can easily be reduced by around 30 percent, predicts the Würzburg professor.

For cultivation out in the open field in hot and dry countries, Zimmermann also expects a further positive consequence: needs-oriented irrigation, as is feasible with the probe, ought to counteract salination of the soil there. This damaging effect occurs when soil constantly loses large quantities of water through evaporation - the salts dissolved in the water are precipitated on the surface. "However, if plants are only given as much water as they can absorb, this evaporation of water from soil is minimized," explains Zimmermann.

Ministry supports foundation of a company

Zimmermann sees huge market potential in the probe. So, he and his colleagues have decided to found a company that will offer needs-oriented irrigation monitoring devices as a service to farmers and horticulturalists.

The German Federal Ministry of Economics has granted the Würzburg founders EUR 100,000 in funding for this purpose from the development program EXIST. With this cash injection the team can now devise a business plan and press ahead with founding the company. The ministry has also provided support, through the PRO-INNO program, for the development of the prototype of the magnetic probe.

Members of the founding team

Alongside Professor Zimmermann, the founding team includes: doctoral student in biology Simon Rüger, biotechnologist Dr. Aihua Zhou, and business consultant Michael Gallena. The project is being supported by the Research and Innovation Service Center (SFI) of the University of Würzburg.

ZIM Plant Technology is the name given to the project. ZIM is an acronym for "Zimmermann Irrigation Monitoring".

Contact

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Zimmermann, Department of Biotechnology at the University of Würzburg, T +49 (0)172 7809301, ulrich.zimmermann@zim-plant-technology.com

Robert Emmerich | idw
Further information:
http://www.uni-wuerzburg.de

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht A Map of the Cell’s Power Station
18.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht On the way to developing a new active ingredient against chronic infections
18.08.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für Infektionsforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>