Barley seedlings grow 50% more on average when their root system is stimulated electrically through a new cultivation substrate. In a study published in the journal PNAS, researchers from Linköping University have developed an electrically conductive “soil” for soilless cultivation, known as hydroponics.

“The world population is increasing, and we also have climate change. So it’s clear that we won’t be able to cover the food demands of the planet with only the already existing agricultural methods. But with hydroponics, we can grow food also in urban environments in very controlled settings,” says Eleni Stavrinidou, associate professor at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics at Linköping University and leader of the Electronic Plants group.

Her research group has now developed an electrically conductive cultivation substrate tailored to hydroponic cultivation, which they call eSoil. The Linköping University researchers have shown that barley seedlings grown in the conductive “soil” grew up to 50% more in 15 days when their roots were stimulated electrically.

Hydroponic cultivation means that plants grow without soil, needing only water, nutrients and something their roots can attach to – a substrate. It is a closed system that enables water recirculation so that each seedling gets exactly the nutrients it needs. Therefore, very little water is required, and all nutrients remain in the system, which is not possible in traditional cultivation.

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