Plant Electric Fields

Bees don’t just recognise flowers by their colour and scent; they can also pick up on their minute electric fields. Such fields—which form from the imbalance of charge between the ground and the atmosphere—are unique to each species, based on the plant’s distance from the ground and shape - sciencemag.org

YOUTUBE CB07Loj3K4Q How bees detect flowers' electric fields

Flowers use them as an additional way to advertise themselves to pollinators, but until now researchers had no idea how bees sensed these fields.

In a study, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers used a laser vibrometer—a tiny machine that hits the bee hair with a laser—to measure how the hair on a bee’s body responds to a flower’s tiny electric field.

As the hair moves because of the electric field, it changes the frequency of the laser light that hits it, allowing the vibrometer to keep track of the velocity of motion of the hair.

When the bees buzzed within 10 centimeters of the flower, the electric field—like static electricity from a balloon—caused the bee’s hair to bend.

This bending activates neurons at the base of bee hair sockets, which allows the insects to “sense” the field, the team found. Electric fields can only be sensed from a distance of 10 cm or so, so they’re not very useful for large animals like ourselves.

But for small insects, this distance represents several body lengths, a relatively long distance. Because sensing such fields is useful to small animals, the team suspects this ability could be important to other insect species as well.

VIMEO 54644020 Excerpt from “microfemininewarfare” documentary. Mileece discusses the process of making installations in SuperCollider with plants to create harmonic environments.

# How to measure

Action potentials (electrical signals) in plants can be as quick as 20 ms so you need a daq with a fast sample rate on each channel – 500 kbs/s min – I would recomend labjacks u3 which I have just bought – you probably could use an arduino but I want sure about the sample rate and I wanted more than 4 channels. Next you need very conductive electrodes (ag/cl)- they need to be placed correctly . The input impedance of your op amps are very important - cycling74.com

# Science

Electrical excitability and signalling, frequently associated with rapid responses to environmental stimuli, are well known in some algae and higher plants - onlinelibrary.wiley.com

The presence of electrical signals, such as action potentials (AP), in both animal and plant cells suggested that plant cells, too, make use of ion channels to transmit information over long distances. In the light of rapid progress in plant biology during the past decade, the assumption that electrical signals do not only trigger rapid leaf movements in ‘sensitive’ plants such as Mimosa pudica or Dionaea muscipula, but also physiological processes in ordinary plants proved to be correct.

Summarizing recent progress in the field of electrical signalling in plants, the present review will focus on the generation and propagation of various electrical signals, their ways of transmission within the plant body and various physiological effects.

# Overview of Plant electrophysiology and its potential to create art

Augustine Leudar presents a brief overview of plant electrophysiology and looks at some interesting recent research in the controversially named area of plant "neurobiology" and how it might be used to create art.

Action potentials have been detected both in the root systems of plants [i] and the mycelia of fungi [ii]. Some research has been conducted on electrical activity in the myzcorrhizal network.

Another paper showed “action potentials in fungal mycelia signalling the availability of nutrients at the tips of hyphal chords”.

However despite this tantalising data , to the authors knowledge no research has been done on whether action potentials can cross from the root systems of plants to the mycelia and back to the roots of other trees via the Arbuscular mycorrhizal network.

Converting the electrical potentials into light and surround sound installations by amplifying them and feeding them into a computer program in situ presents exciting opportunities to bridge the gap between the sciences and art. Spectacular audio visual installations that make tangible these hitherto unseen aspects of complex electrical plant activity have the potential to engage the public and alter the way they perceive the biosphere of which they form a part.

The challenge for the artist is to create something they find aesthetic pleasingly yet at the same time ensure the signals are measured correctly , that the integrity of the signals are maintained .