The inside story: MRI imaging shows how plants can inspire new engineering materials

June 29, 2015, Society for Experimental Biology
A branch of Dracaena marginata. Credit: Linnea Hesse

3-D imaging of plant branching structures is allowing researchers to see how exactly their internal tissues respond under stress, giving new insights into the design of potential new engineering materials, such as those used in aircraft and sports equipment.

Researchers from the Plant Biomechanics Group of the University of Freiburg, Germany, have developed a new method to visualize the junction between branches and stems in (plant ramifications). The method uses (MRI) to study how vascular tissue within the ramifications deforms under stress and strain. These ramifications can then be used as concept generators for branched, fibre-reinforced, lightweight materials in bicycles, cars airplanes and architecture.

"We wanted to assess the load-bearing capacity of the vascular tissues," says Linnea Hesse, one of the researchers involved in the study. "Now, for the first time, we can visualize load-induced deformations non-invasively within a living plant."

By comparing 3D-images of the arrangement of vascular bundles in unloaded and mechanically loaded ramifications, the researchers hope to understand the importance of bundles and other tissues in biomechanics, so that this method can be used to optimize branched, fibre-reinforced, lightweight components.

"The focus is on optimizing technical ramifications and thus product development in car, aircraft, windmill and sport device construction, as these profit from reduced weight and high load-bearing capacity", says Hesse.

MRI scans of plant ramifications are shown. Credit: Linnea Hesse

Other visualization methods, which employ histological techniques or µCT, require extensive preparation and image-post-processing, as well as being invasive. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) helps to overcome these issues by allowing the workers to differentiate various without damaging the plant (non-invasive) prior to or during image acquisition.

Further work is needed before the method can be fully implemented, but it is hoped that these methods will be useful not only for biomimicry or plant biomechanics but also for studying general plant biology.

Explore further: See flower cells in 3-D—no electron microscopy required

More information: This work will be presented by Linnea Hesse (Plant Biomechanics Group, University of Freiburg, Germany) at the annual meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB) in Prague at 11:25 Tuesday 30th June 2015.

Related Stories

See flower cells in 3-D—no electron microscopy required

April 30, 2015

Scientists require high-resolution imaging of plant cells to study everything from fungal infections to reproduction in maize. These images are captured with scanning electron microscopy (SEM), where an electron microscope ...

Feeding caterpillars make leaves shine

June 4, 2015

When a plant is attacked by herbivores, this triggers a number of physiological responses in the plant. Calcium ions are important messengers for the processing of wound signals in plant cells. They regulate signal transduction ...

Cause of wheat resistance to scab discovered

April 29, 2015

A nasty disease that can wreak havoc on wheat crops has been identified by scientists, allowing plant breeders to develop better varieties with higher yields for farmers.

Scientists discover the cause of heat tolerance in peas

March 25, 2015

A recent collaboration between the Canadian Light Source and the University of Saskatchewan Plant Science Department is proving the potential for molecular imaging in plant research that could produce greater yields, healthier ...

Recommended for you

Semimetals are high conductors

March 18, 2019

Researchers in China and at UC Davis have measured high conductivity in very thin layers of niobium arsenide, a type of material called a Weyl semimetal. The material has about three times the conductivity of copper at room ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.