Spraying fertilizers and pesticides on plants is usually a big deficit – only 1% of the substances currently used in industrial and food agriculture are absorbed by the plant, while the rest dissipates into the soil. New technology demonstrated for the first time by Carnegie Mellon University Greg Lowry and his team reverse this – making a plant absorb molecules with an efficiency of up to 99%, which means that only 1% is wasted.
There are efficiency improvements, then technological demonstrations that could completely disrupt current methods of doing things – like this one. Lowry’s research, which has been demonstrated as stated in a peer-reviewed publication now available in Nanoscale communications, uses nanoparticles to coat molecular substances that you want to absorb by a plant. These could include nutrients designed to optimize crop growth and yields, for example, or pesticides that could protect them from destructive insects and infestations.
We covered this work last year, when it was still only at the pre-demonstration stage – now the Lowry team has shown that you can indeed design nanoparticles specifically to target pores on the surface of a leaf. Basically, it’s like creating custom lego blocks for receptors on the leaf surface and then binding the nutrients you want to bring to these custom lego blocks for the perfect fit.
This demonstration confirms the team’s hypothesis, which paves the way for potential future developments and, possibly, a commercial application. The greatest potential commercial use of this technology could be in pesticides, as it is estimated that up to 40% of the potential crop yield is still lost due to plant diseases which can be prevented through the effective use of pesticides which may prevent them from entering through the leaf pores. They could also improve the absorption of plant foods and fertilizers designed to stimulate growth, and potentially these two uses could be combined in a single “dose” of nanoparticles that can be used for two purposes, with great potential for increasing plant production and vegetable.