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Researchers at the Department of Plant Pathology and Ecology at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, United States, are testing whether nanotechnology could help plants fight disease in a way that has never been done before. Wade Elmer, the chief scientist at the station, and Jason White, a toxicologist and vice director of the station, believe they have figured out how to use nutrients in nano-form to stimulate a plant’s own immune system. Their research, this article says, could “represent the potential to transform agriculture broadly — and to do it cost-effectively, possibly even saving money.” Recent research suggest that as much as 42 percent of the global annual production of six major food crops is lost to plant diseases, so the researchers are hoping their nanotech solution could offer an alternative tool to chemicals or genetic modification. It could be especially helpful in developing countries, as it would be comparatively inexpensive and easy to deploy. In their research, Elmer and White knew that at least some metal nanoparticles might be able to travel downward through plants, so they decided to spray dissolved nanoparticle nutrients - copper, manganese and zinc - on the leaves of young plants. “We found that just a simple copper spray applied on the young seedlings was translating into higher yields at the end of the season,” Elmer said. In fact, they determined that nanoparticle copper sprayed on an acre of eggplant would cost about US$44, but could increase production enough to raise the value of the yield from US$17,000 to US$28,000. “It was striking,” Elmer said. The team also found that the metals did not accumulate in the edible part of the plant - one of the lingering concerns they had about the experiment. Overall, the signs are encouraging. The team won a US$480,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant for a three-year study that began last year. While more research needs to be done and many questions remain, Elmer and White are hopeful, this article says, that they may have stumbled onto something that could help. “We’re going to need to grow crops on more marginal lands under more marginal conditions,” White said. “So if we can come up with a way to make that easier to do, then I think that’s tremendous.”NEXT ARTICLE
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