Chemical Sensing in Real Time with Plants Using a Webcam

Xingcai Qin, Ying Zhu, Jingjing Yu, Xiaojun Xian, Chenbin Liu, Yuting Yang, Nongjian Tao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


It has been established that plants can smell and respond to chemicals in order to adapt to and survive in a changing chemical environment. Here we show that a plant responds to chemicals in air, and the response can be detected rapidly to allow tracking of air pollution in real time. We demonstrate this capability by detecting subtle color and shape changes in the leaves of mosses upon exposure to sulfur dioxide in air with a simple webcam and an imaging-processing algorithm. The leaves of mosses consist of a monolayer of cells, providing a large surface-to-volume ratio for highly sensitive chemical sensing. The plant sensor responds linearly to sulfur dioxide within a wide concentration range (0-180 ppm), and it can tolerate humidity variation (15-85% relative humidity) and chemical interference and regenerate itself. We envision that plants can help alert chemical exposure danger as a part of our living environment using low-cost CMOS imagers, and their chemical-sensing capabilities may be further improved with genetic engineering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13030-13035
Number of pages6
JournalAnalytical Chemistry
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 6 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry


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