Giving Tomatoes Their Shots: The Future of Plant Medicine May Come From Drones

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Nobody likes getting a shot – but even plants might need them sometimes.  MIT researchers are exploring ways to administer injections to plants with drones.

As described in the original article plants, much like people, get sick.  The treatment traditionally involves the spread of chemicals designed to mitigate or alleviate the disease.  Spreading or spraying chemicals usually results in much of the treatment being absorbed by the soil, rather than the plant. These researchers are testing a new type of needle that may be used  in the future to shoot medicine into diseased plants directly, rather than spreading chemicals in the traditional method.

Science News for Students  says: “Similar to the way COVID-19 sickens and kills people, disease epidemics are wiping out entire groves of bananas, oranges and other crops. To treat plant diseases, farmers usually spray chemicals. Some of these target the germs that cause disease. Other chemicals target the pests that carry those germs.”

But “less than 5 percent [of the chemicals] go inside the plant,” MIT researcher Yunteng Cao points out.

The more precise shot delivery method of giving plants medicine is called a phytoinjector.  “It’s a tiny patch containing even tinier barbs that pierce the plant. Those barbs are microneedles. And they’re made to dissolve. As they do, they release their medicine. Later, the patch falls off or can be removed,” says Science News.

A similar technology is already available for humans.

One of the major problems facing agronomists in using this technology is delivery- if the patches must be attached by hand to each individual plant, the technology may be impractical for large farming operations.  Drones, already heavily used in agriculture, offer one possible solution.  Researchers equipped a small drone with a toy dart gun in order to inject the needle into the plant – see the enlarged video below.






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