Moss Makes A Good Air Pollution Sensor

Moss responds rapidly to air pollutants, especially sulfur dioxide, making it useful as a real-time pollution sensor.

AsianScientist (Oct. 25, 2018) – In a study published in Analytical Chemistry, scientists in China have found that moss can function as a simple and inexpensive way to detect air pollutants—specifically sulfur dioxide—in real time.

Plants have evolved the ability to sense light, touch, gravity and chemicals in the air and soil, allowing them to adapt and survive in changing environments. Thus, plants have been used in studies to assess the long-term damage caused by accumulated air pollution worldwide.

In this study, scientists led by Dr. Qin Xingcai and Dr. Tao Nongjian at Nanjing University, China, have discovered a way to use subtle changes in moss leaves to detect air pollutants in real time.

The researchers gathered wild moss and exposed it to various concentrations of sulfur dioxide in a chamber. Using a highly sensitive webcam, the research team found that moss leaves exposed to sulfur dioxide slightly shrank or curled and changed color from green to yellow.

Some of these changes, analyzed with an imaging algorithm, occurred within ten seconds of exposure to the pollutant. However, once the sulfur dioxide was removed from the chamber, the moss leaves gradually recovered.

These results suggest that moss, unlike traditional colorimetric sensors, can regenerate its chemical sensing capacity. The researchers concluded that combining remote webcams or drones with moss or other plant-based sensors could lead to cheaper, faster and more precise monitoring of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants in the air over vast regions.

The article can be found at: Qin et al. (2018) Chemical Sensing in Real Time with Plants Using a Webcam.


Source: American Chemical Society; Photo: Pexels.
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