February 6, 2021 | Issue 21-02
Science Spotlight
MIT Scientists Hack Spinach
Plants to Send Emails.
Spinach sending emails? Lettuce mark them as spam. As baizarre as it sounds, engineers at MIT through the use of nanotechnology, have transformed spinach into sensors capable of detecting explosive materials. These plants are then able to wirelessly relay this information back to the scientists.

When the spinach roots detect the presence of nitroaromatics in groundwater, a compound often found in explosives like landmines, the carbon nanotubes within the plant leaves emit a signal. This signal is then read by an infrared camera, sending an email alert to the scientists.

This experiment is part of a wider field of research which involves engineering electronic components and systems into plants. The technology is known as “plant nanobionics,” and is effectively the process of giving plants new abilities.

Because of the vast amount of data plants absorb from their surroundings, they are ideally situated to monitor ecological changes. Scientists everywhere are rooting them!

Modern Fishing Leads to
Decline in Sharks.
Since 1970, overall shark populations in the high seas has fallen over 70%. The main cause is overfishing, which has put three-quarters of these species at risk of extinction.

Humans have hunted sharks for centuries for their meat and fins. A related group of fish, the rays, are caught for their gills, for use in traditional medicine. Studies have identified severe regional declines of specific species, such as the loss of scalloped hammerhead sharks in the northwest Atlantic Ocean, but no one had compiled trends in all oceans.

Compared with 1970, boats today are bigger and do more fishing with gear that catches a lot of sharks, such as long lines of baited hooks. And many sharks have always been vulnerable to depletion because they take years to reach reproductive maturity.

Regulating fishing laws, and ensuring our oceans are clean and protected is the number one way we can ensure that our predator friends have a future. Do your part by going to savetheskarks.org to lean more about how the dedicated individuals they help preserve the ocean and its creatures.