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Microfluidic Chip: Researchers Present New ‘Tree-On-A-Chip,’ Mimics Pumping Mechanism Of Trees & Plants

First Posted: Mar 21, 2017 06:40 AM EDT

Trees and plants have their own hydraulic pump system through that water travels up to the leaves from the roots and the sugar and the nutrients that the leaves produce travel down to the roots. The pumping mechanism is carried out through a system of tissues called xylem and phloem.

Mimicking the pumping mechanism inside trees and plants, a group of MIT engineers have designed a microfluidic chip that they have termed as "tree-on-a-chip." The newly designed chip works almost the same as the natural pumps inside trees and does not require any external pump or mechanical part, reported Phys.org.

The microfluidic chip is able to move fluids through the chip at a steady flow rate for several days. Notably, researchers had developed the same tree-inspired pump systems before. However, they found that the designs would stop pumping within just a few minutes.

In order to make the chip, the researchers put together two plastic slides and drilled small channels through the slides to represent xylem and phloem. They filled water in the xylem channel and water and sugar in the phloem channel. Next, they used a semipermeable material to separate the two slides to mimic the membrane between xylem and phloem, as noted by MIT News.

The researchers also placed an additional membrane over the phloem channel and a sugar cube atop it to represent sugar produced by a tree's leaves during photosynthesis. They attached the chip to a tube, which pumped water up from a tank. It was found that the chip was able to passively pump water through itself at a constant flow rate for several days.

"The goal of this work is cheap complexity, like one sees in nature," said Anette Hosoi, professor and associate department head for operations in MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering. "It's easy to add another leaf or xylem channel in a tree."

The research paper detailing the "tree-on-a-chip" work has been published in the journal Nature Plants.

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