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Indian scientists show how to boost yields

Indian scientists show how to boost yields
Highlights

Nano particles are thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair. The projected global population will be approximately nine billion by...

  • Make use of nanoparticle-treated seeds
  • Plant growth with no side effects on soil ecosystem

Kolkata: In a dramatic breakthrough, Indian scientists, led by Mainak Das, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences and Bioengineering at IIT-Kanpur, have found that synthetically engineered nano-particles comprising iron and sulfur and modelled on the natural ones that sustain life at the bottom of oceans can boost crop yields and be the future of sustainable and eco-friendly agriculture.

Nano particles are thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair. The projected global population will be approximately nine billion by 2050. To provide healthy nutrition to this population, agricultural production will have to increase by about 60 per cent. For answers, Indian experts have turned to the ocean and molecules that date to the origin of life on earth.

Deep down on the ocean floor, where oxygen is deficient, iron pyrite (iron and sulfur) nanoparticles spewed by hydrothermal vents - fissures - have been the source of energy for bacteria and tiny plants since time immemorial.
With these nano-factories as their inspiration, scientists have come up with an innovative way to use pyrite nanoparticles in agriculture as an agent for seed treatment to sort of "dress up" seeds prior to sowing. This resulted in "enhanced plant growth with minimum interference to the soil ecosystem." They applied the technology to the globally popular leafy vegetable, spinach, scientifically termed Spinacia oleracea.

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first evidence in the world where a special class of nanoparticle has been used as a seed treatment or seed priming agent in a controlled environment which resulted in higher production of the spinach crop in the field," Das said.

Gaurav Srivastava, also of IIT-Kanpur, said the plants developed from the primed seeds exhibited "significantly broader leaf dimensions, larger leaf numbers, increased biomass along with higher concentration of calcium, manganese and zinc in the leaves". But is the strategy safe enough and can it reduce the use of chemical fertiliser without compromising production? Das said: "We are not putting nanoparticles in the soil. So, we are not disturbing the soil ecosystem at all (unlike what a fertiliser does). Thus we call these pro-fertilisers." Since iron pyrite is ubiquitous in nature and found all over the earth's crust, chances that such minuscule exposure to seeds will cause any adverse effect are almost negligible.

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