Biology

Tomato growth boosted with a spray of nanoparticles

Tomato growth boosted with a s...
An aerosol application of nanonutrients has significantly boosted the growth and antioxidant level of tomato plants
An aerosol application of nanonutrients has significantly boosted the growth and antioxidant level of tomato plants
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The different effects of the application of nano nutrients on a tomato plant
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The different effects of the application of nano nutrients on a tomato plant
An aerosol application of nanonutrients has significantly boosted the growth and antioxidant level of tomato plants
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An aerosol application of nanonutrients has significantly boosted the growth and antioxidant level of tomato plants

Fans of The Simpsons may recall Lisa using genetic engineering to create a super tomato that she hoped would cure world hunger. Now researchers at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) have come close to the real thing, not through genetic engineering, but with the use of nanoparticles. Although the individual fruit aren't as large as Lisa's creation, the team's approach has resulted in tomato plants that produced almost 82 percent more fruit by weight, with the fruit also boasting higher antioxidant content.

The new technique developed by Ramesh Raliya, PhD and Pratim Biswas, PhD, both at WUSTL's School of Engineering & Applied Science, involves the use of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles to boost the tomato plant's ability to absorb light and minerals. The titanium oxide increases chlorophyll content in the plant's leaves to improve photosynthesis, while zinc is an essential nutrient that also helps the function of enzymes within the plant.

"When a plant grows, it signals the soil that it needs nutrients," Biswas says. "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 team found that directly depositing the nanoparticles on the plant's leaves as a very fine spray resulted in a much greater uptake of nutrients than if the nanoparticles were applied to the soil.

"A plant can only uptake 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," says Raliya. "In both of the latter cases, the nutrients are unavailable to plants."

In addition to the plants treated with the aerosol nanoparticles producing almost 82 percent more fruit by weight than untreated plants, the tomatoes themselves had an increase of between 80 and 113 percent in levels of lycopene. This is an antioxidant that gives tomatoes and some other red fruits and vegetables their red color and has been the subject of numerous studies seeking to ascertain a link between it and a reduced risk of cancer – none of which have been conclusive according to the FDA.

Biswas says that the optimal concentration of nanoparticles that provide the maximum benefit still needs to be determined, but the plants and tomatoes used in the study had nanoparticle levels well below the USDA limit and were considerably lower than those found in conventional fertilizer.

The team is now developing a new formulation of nanonutrients that doesn't just include zinc, but all 17 elements plants require to grow. They hope such a technique could help feed the 9 billion people that are expected to inhabit the planet by 2050, without placing extra strain on water and energy resources.

"In 100 years, there will be more cities and less farmland, but we will need more food," Raliya says. "At the same time, water will be limited because of climate change. We need an efficient methodology and a controlled environment in which plants can grow."

The research appears in the journal Metallomics.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

10 comments
Chizzy
at least its not tomacco.
Teaser-Trailer.com
The tomatoes on the header picture look like pumpkins! Anyway, do those big tomatoes taste as good as normal tomatoes? Or are they full of water and tasteless?
Harry van Trotsenburg
And what do the nano particles do in my body? TiO2, is hardly necessary in my body?
Stradric
I imagine the widespread use of aerosolized nanoparticles would have some health implications. They're bioaccumulants, so their negative effects wouldn't necessarily be seen right away. There's always a trade-off.
Bob Flint
We won't need these "killer tomatoes" because the population explosion will not happen, too many other influences, lack of clean drinking water, and fresh air to breath. We are killing ourselves softly over time and with the changing weather patterns all bets are off, not to mention all the chemicals we have already put up with for the past 100 years. Maybe what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, but not live longer...
LKT1
It won't be too long before we will begin to see environmental damage caused by nanoparticles.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
How does more power in the weather cycle mean less rain?
Scott in California
If you're worried about nanoparticles, remember that wood smoke contains plenty of nanoparticles, and billions of people burn wood for cooking. Some burn dung as well. Note that the article says that the nanoparticles go on the leaves. Nothing about absorption into the fruit. "Dust" on the fruit would no doubt be washed off. Instead of "oil depletion allowance" and other tax advantages to the fuel industry, how about subsidies to small growers, to bring more areas into production, such as rooftops and lawns? In Switzerland, you can get over $50k per year, just for growing fodder for cows on a couple of hectares!
MatthewHarden
If you urinate on your tomatoes, they grow TWICE as big. This sounds really dumb, but I tried it and it works. I pee'd every day on one plant and not the other, and the fruit was twice as large on the one I peed on.
Rustgecko
@Bob Flint "We won't need these "killer tomatoes" because the population explosion will not happen, too many other influences, lack of clean drinking water, and fresh air to breath." We are already in a population explosion. The world population increased by 71,321,127 *year to date*. That is like a new Germany to feed each year - and the speed is increasing. We need every technological fix we can in horticulture and agriculture if starvation is not to increase.