The secret world of plants and robots

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Speakers Paola Bonfante and Barbara Mazzolai

The short entitled “The 21st Sense” will be shown during the event and the filmmakers will also be on hand.

The Secret World of Plants and Robots

Drawing inspiration from nature to envision the future


Plants are our closest allies in dealing with global emergencies. We know that they can store energy from the sun, capture carbon dioxide, release oxygen into the atmosphere and much more besides. Digging deeper, we discover that plants share microbial communities composed of millions of tiny diverse organisms: bacteria, archaea, viruses, molds, arthropods and so on. These organisms live around the roots and inhabit the leaves and fruit. We may say that since plant life emerged from the primeval waters 470 million years ago, plants have never lived alone. They’ve kept their relationships secret yet essential for survival and the environment.

When humans starting cultivating plants 10,000 years ago, they did not realize the importance of this invisible microbiologic system. Studying plant microbiota and identifying its components and functions are a focus area of research.

Another challenge is to draw inspiration from plants in the design of machines to improve life. Bioinspired soft robotics refers to the development of planetoids, soft monolithic bodies that mimic root behavior and to the creation of multifunctional material that interacts with the environment to reduce energy consumption or for use in medical and archeological applications.

But will robotics and artificial intelligence be able to provide solutions for protecting the climate and biodiversity? Will robots be biodegradable? Will they help to monitor and reduce pollution? In what way can studying plant microbiota offer a source of inspiration?



Paola Bonferante

Professor emeritus of plant biology, University of Turin, she has focused her pioneering scientific research on plant-microorganism interactions in the environment and their impact on society.

Barbar Mazzolai
Earned a degree in biology, then continued her postdoc studies in microsystem engineering and eco-management. She is director of the Micro-biorobotics Center, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, which conducts research in bioinspired robotics.




Vincenzo Guarnieri, biochemist and science communicator.

The short The 21st Sense, directed by Christian Battiferro and produced by Horizon Srl will be shown during the event. The event is organized jointly by the Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology, University of Turin, and CNR – Istituto per la Protezione Sostenibile delle Piante, on the occasion of Fascination of Plants Day.

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