Ramesh Raliya and Pratim Biswas, two Indian-origin scientists at the Washington University in St Louis are breaking barriers with their latest innovation in nanoparticles. Their use of nanoparticles in fertilisers could help increase output without adding further strain on existing natural resources. The nanoparticle fertilisers are also expected to be more eco-friendly than conventional fertilisers.
Fertilisers are used to provide plants with nutrients to ensure their growth. Traditionally, fertilisers are either applied directly to the soil or are mixed with irrigation water.
Studies reveal that plants can only absorb 42 percent of the phosphorous from fertilisers. The rest, unfortunately, finds its way into lakes and rivers where it grows algae and pollutes the water.
“Currently, farmers are using nearly 85 per cent of the world’s total mined phosphorus as fertiliser. At this rate, the world’s supply of phosphorus could run out within the next 80 years,” the scientists told The Times of India, highlighting yet another drawback of conventional fertilisers.
Raliya and Biswas’s innovation then is a much-needed innovation for agriculturalists around the world.
Image for representation only. Source: Flickr.
A nanoparticle is defined as an ultrafine object that behaves as a whole unit in terms of its properties.
The two scientists have created zinc oxide nanoparticles from a fungus around the plant’s root. Zinc, which is an essential nutrient for plants, interacts with three enzymes to break down phosphorus from its complex form to one that the plant can easily absorb.
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“When the enzyme activity increases, you don’t need to apply the external phosphorus, because it’s already in the soil, but not in an available form for the plant to uptake,” the scientists told Science Daily.
The zinc nano-fertiliser can be applied directly onto the leaves of the plants. Given that the particles are extremely small, they are easily – and more efficiently – absorbed by the plant. This leaves no room for excess fertiliser to pollute the soil or the water.
The scientists have experimented with using the zinc nano-fertiliser on mung bean (green gram) plants. The results have been promising. The plant increased its uptake of phosphorus by 11 percent, while the activity of the three enzymes went from 84% to 108%. This translated into a 27% increase in biomass and a 6% increase in the quantity of beans produced.
Image for representation only. Source: Youtube
What’s more, these nano-particles can be fine-tuned to suit different conditions: “These particles have unique physical, chemical and structural features, which we can fine-tune through engineering,” the scientists said.