Nanoscience delves deep into seeds

LINDELL BEACH, B.C. – Nanoscience is making big things happen in the smallest ways.

It is an emerging branch of science in which tiny nanoparticles, wisps barely 1/50,000th the width of a human hair, are improving the productivity of plants for food, fuel and other uses.

For example, scientists at the University of Arkansas found that carbon nanotubes (CNTs) penetrate tomato seeds. Once inside the seeds, these tiny nanotubes support water uptake, dramatically improving germination and growth rates.

In the test studies, nanotube-exposed seeds sprouted up to two times faster than control seeds, and the seedlings weighed more than twice as much as the untreated plants.

The germination percentage for seeds placed on a medium supplemented with CNTs averaged 74 to 82 percent in 12 days and 90 percent in 20 days compared to an average of 32 percent in 12 days and 71 percent in 20 days on a regular medium.

“This observed positive effect of CNTs on the seed germination could have significant economic importance for agriculture, horticulture and the energy sector such as for production of biofuels,” Mariya Khodakovskaya of the university said in a news release.

The results of the study were published last fall in the American Chemical Society’s ACS Nano publication.

“There is an extensive interest in applying nanoparticles to plants for agricultural and horticultural use,” Khodakovskaya wrote.

“To achieve the goals of nanoagriculture, detailed studies on the effects of nanotubes on seed germination and development of seedlings of valuable agricultural plant species are needed.”

Khodakovskaya thinks the report was the first to describe the effect of penetrating plant seed coats with carbon nanotubes.

Researchers now want to take advantage of the enhancement in the biomass of plants when they are exposed to nanosized materials and fertilizers.

However, they are a long way from a commercial or practical application. The science needs more investigation and studies will likely be required on costs, the safety of nanoparticle application and how the technology will be applied in a practical application for growers.

“We have applied for patent and we are in negotiations with three companies to research seed enhancement,” Khodakovskaya said.

“This project is still in a stage of research and there is much to be done.”

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