An initiative known as the food-water-energy nexus, aims to explore ways to meet the world’s increasing demand for food without straining natural resources, and is undertaken by scientists and engineers. As part of this programme, researchers at the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis are using nanoparticles to enhance growth and nutrient content of tomato plants.
The researchers discovered that tomato plants have increased efficacy in absorbing minerals and light, and fruits had greater amounts of antioxidants from utilising zinc and titanium dioxide nanoparticles. Zinc aids the proper function of enzymes and can be found in conventional fertilisers. On the other hand, titanium is not an essential nutrient for plants, but enhances chlorophyll content in leaves and promotes photosynthesis by increasing light absorption by plants.
Partim Biswas, PhD, the Lucy and Stanley Polata Professor and Chair of the Department of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering, indicated that, “When a plant grows, it signals to the soil that it needs nutrients. The nutrient it needs is not in a form that the plant can take right away, so it secretes enzymes, which react with the soil and trigger bacterial microbes to turn the nutrients into a form that the plant can use. We’re trying to aid this pathway by adding nanoparticles.”
The scientists deposited nanoparticles on leaves for maximum uptake by providing very fine spray using novel aerosolisation techniques. Raliya, a postdoctoral researcher, shared that, “We found that our aerosol technique resulted in much greater uptake of nutrients by the plant in comparison to application of the nanoparticles to soil. A plant can only take up about 20 percent of the nutrients applied through soil, with the remainder either forming stable complexes with soil constituents or being washed away with water, causing runoff. In both of the latter cases, the nutrients are unavailable to plants.”
Plants given nanoparticles via aerosols produced almost 82 percent more fruit (by weight) than plants with no nanoparticles. Furthermore, tomatoes from plants given nanoparticles had greater amounts of lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant linked to reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, and age-related eye disorders.
In addition, the amount of nanoparticles in tomatoes were below the USDA limit and the amount in conventional fertilisers. However, the researchers must still be cautious in selecting the optimal concentration of nanoparticles for maximum benefit.
This study has been published online in Metallomics. The team is currently working on developing a new formulation of nanonutrients that includes all 17 elements required by plants.
Source: Science Daily.
The original research paper can be found here.