Innovative approaches are urgently required to alleviate the growing pressure on agriculture to meet the rising demand for food. A key challenge for plant biology is to bridge the notable knowledge gap between our detailed understanding of model plants grown under laboratory conditions and the agriculturally important crops cultivated in fields or production facilities. This Perspective highlights the recent development of new analytical tools that are rapid and non-destructive and provide tissue-, cell- or organelle-specific information on living plants in real time, with the potential to extend across multiple species in field applications. We evaluate the utility of engineered plant nanosensors and portable Raman spectroscopy to detect biotic and abiotic stresses, monitor plant hormonal signalling as well as characterize the soil, phytobiome and crop health in a non- or minimally invasive manner. We propose leveraging these tools to bridge the aforementioned fundamental gap with new synthesis and integration of expertise from plant biology, engineering and data science. Lastly, we assess the economic potential and discuss implementation strategies that will ensure the acceptance and successful integration of these modern tools in future farming practices in traditional as well as urban agriculture.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors are grateful for the funding and support from the MIT-Singapore SMART programme, specifically the Disruptive and Sustainable Technology for Agricultural Precision (DiSTAP) integrated research group, and the National Research Foundation, Singapore (NRF-CRP16-2015-04 to N.I.N). T.T.S.L. was supported on a graduate fellowship by the Agency of Science, Research and Technology, Singapore. We thank B. Skrip (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for creating Fig. 2 in this manuscript.
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