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AI Helps Find a Partner for the “World’s Loneliest Plant”

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The world’s loneliest plant, a male endangered plant, may get a mate with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), according to scientists.

A team from the University of Southampton is leading a research project to find a female Encephalartos woodii (E. woodii) in South African forests. All known E. woodii are male clones and can’t reproduce naturally.

Dr Laura Cinti is leading the project

E. woodii is one of the oldest plant species on Earth, predating dinosaurs, and is regarded as among the most endangered organisms globally. This study is the first to use drones and AI for searching a female E. woodii, said Dr Laura Cinti from the University of Southampton.

Cinti added: “The story of E. woodii is like a classic tale of unrequited love — I hope there is a female out there somewhere; finding one would be amazing and could save the species from extinction.”

The only known E. woodii was found in Ngoye Forest in 1895, with natural reproduction impossible since all propagated samples have been male clones.

Drones take pictures of the forest that are then analysed by AI – so far less than 2% of the 10,000-acre area has been searched.

“We use an image recognition algorithm to identify plants by their shape,” explained Cinti.

Different settings were used to create images of the plants for training purposes because until now no one had ever fully explored this forest before.

It’s possible that there might still be a female plant somewhere in this forest or it could also be at Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens where it goes by another name “the world’s loneliest plant”, she added.

Source: bbc