What is Nanotechnology in Agriculture?
General Description of Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of the matter, at dimensions between approximately 1 and 100 nanometres. This concept was originally proposed by a Nobel laureate physicist Sir Richard Feynman. A nanometer is one billionth of a metre which is only visible under a high powered telescope. The nanoparticles in industrial scale are used in a broad spectrum of applications within a diverse range of industries.
Some Examples of Nanoparticles used in Agriculture
Nanotechnology uses several nanoparticles in the agricultural sector of which we mention some of them here.
- Polymeric nanoparticles – Some nanoparticles like polyethylene glycol, poly epsilon caprolactone, poly lactide co glycolide, and poly Y-glutamic acid are used as polymeric materials in Agriculture for delivering of slow and controlled agrochemicals which have biocompatibility and less impact on non targeted organisms.
- Silver nanoparticles – These help in the growth of plants and have an antimicrobial property against a range of phytopathogens.
- Nano alumino silicates – It is used for its efficiency as pesticides.
- Titanium dioxide nanoparticles – It is used as a disinfecting agent for water.
- Carbon nanomaterials – It is used for improving seed germination in the form of graphene, graphene oxide, carbon dots, and fullerenes.
There are some other nanoparticles like zinc oxide, copper oxide nanoparticles and magnetic nanoparticles which are used in Agriculture.
Various Aspects/ components of Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology enhances productivity of the crops by using different forms of itself. Agriculture is a large sector where every stage is to be monitored starting from plantation of seeds to harvest and each stage requires proper preparation and precautions so as to maintain the growth of plants and also protect them from diseases. Nanotechnology has many components which help the farmers to monitor every stage of their farming which is mentioned below.
- Nano Pesticides and Nano Herbicides – These are used for the management of weeds and pests where different nanoparticles like polymeric and inorganic nanoparticles are utilized.
- Nanomaterials – These are used to prevent microbial infections and fungal diseases such as Colletotrichum gloeosporioides, Fusarium oxysporum, Fusarium solani, and Dematophora necatrix as they are effective in disease management.
- Nano fertilizers – Conventional fertilizers are harmful to the environment as about 50-90% of fertilizers applied are lost to the environment, so to improve quality of life it is important to prevent such runoff. Nano fertilizers are so efficient and have the ability to release slow and controlled chemicals only to targeted areas. Nano fertilizers are smart delivery systems which release nutrients in a significant manner and thus enhance crop yields and also reduce the amount of fertilizers needed.
- Nano biosensors – These sensors provide real time monitoring and detection of pathogens, toxins, pesticides, heavy metal contaminants and antibiotic resistance and are used to check soil health, plant growth and also quality and nutrient content of the food.
Applications of Nanotechnology in Agriculture
Agricultural sector has to deal with many enormous challenges like climatic changes, nutrient deficiency, improper use of fertilizers or pesticides, decrease in soil fertility and many more. Our global population is continuously increasing leading to a huge demand for food and we need to provide sustainable agriculture which can enhance crop productivity and improve soil quality.
Farmers are not generally aware of all the shortcomings they can receive due to excessive use of chemical fertilizers. These fertilizers contain toxic chemicals which not only pollute the surface and groundwater but also result in degradation of the whole ecosystem by eliminating beneficial microbes, insects and other wildlife from the soil.
Nanotechnology has immensely contributed to provide solutions to all such challenges and is thus applied in various aspects of Agriculture as mentioned below.
- Nano pesticide delivery to the crops
- Slow and controlled release of nanoparticles in the soil which contains biofertilizers
- Instilling generic materials so as to promote crop development
- Applying nano biosensors to detect phytopathogens
Some of the other applications are discussed below.
- Nanotechnology for Crop Biotechnology
Nanotechnology has been united with Biotechnology and has created DNA particles to produce synthetic DNA to improve the crops fertility by linking carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids to these DNA crystals. Nanoparticles contain herbicides, chemicals or genes which target the specific plants to release their content for effective penetration of these herbicides through cuticles and tissues.
- Nanotechnology in recycling of Agricultural wastes
Nanotechnology is used for preventing wastes where they use high performance absorbents which absorb fertilizers and pesticides. It also enhances effective conversion of cellulose into ethanol which increases livestock. It can also be used to produce nano silica through the process of burning rice husks into thermal energy which can be used further in production of glass and concrete, thereby reducing the rice husk disposal from the rice mills.
- Nanotechnology as delivery systems
The nanosensors could be utilized through precision farming methods in the detection of pests, or droughts and could become effective in the proper use of natural resources such as water, nutrients or chemicals. This would help in automatic adjustments and controlled fertilizer release to the soil and reduce the consumption of fertilizer and environmental pollution.
There are nanobarcodes and nanoprocessors to monitor the quality of crops produced and there is constant regulation of plant hormones which are responsible for root growth and establishment of seeds.
- Nanotechnology in Development of Seeds
Nanotechnology enhances the germination index of plants through various nano treatments where nanoparticles are inserted inside the hard seed coat to improve the seed germination and thus promotes the growth of plants.
- Nanotechnology in Transformation of Plants
Nanotechnology uses Genetic Modification technology in the transformation of plants by inserting DNA of certain plants to another. It produces a new modified crop in a more advanced way as it uses nanoparticles which are targeted in specific areas in a slow and controlled manner allowing less invasion and forced delivery.
Apart from these applications, Nanotechnology is also used in :
- Manufacturing of nanotubes and nanoparticles with insulating properties, nanorobots and nanofactories to construct novel materials.
- Energy generation
- Electronics and Computing
- Medicines by using nanobots to clear away blockages in patients arteries and to make surgeries more efficient and faster
- Environmental pollution
- Economic upheaval
- Privacy and Security as in producing virtually undetectable microscopic recording devices which can be used as a weapon
Advantages & Disadvantages of Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology has been considered as a possible solution to food scarcity but still it has certain issues of safety on health, biodiversity, and environment. Apart from the potential benefits it also involves certain risks associated with chronic exposure to nanomaterials, and their possible effects.
Here are mentioned certain benefits and challenges of Nanotechnology which are to be understood completely before bringing them into action.
It increases throughput
- It improves identification and validation of target proteins
- Visualizes drug interactions
- Provides understanding of chemicals
- Reduces time for drug identification
- Reduces reagents
- Genetic modification
- Smart delivery systems
- Nano implants
- Development of seeds
- Reduces waste production
- Nanobiosensors, Nano fertilizers etc.
- Unknown effects
- Difficult to clean
- Economic disruption
- Threats to security, privacy, health and environment
- High processing costs
Future of Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology has exhibited significant contributions in global food supply but still it is new to the society with a fear of unnatural and dangerous food produced through genetic modification. There is a need for public awareness and proper communication so as to introduce this technology to a traditional market.
There are certain strategies like understanding of negative side effects of nanoparticles, development of portable and user friendly nanobiosensors for analysing of soil, plants, water and pesticides, and others, that need to be implemented in Nanotechnology so as to provide more sustainable farming techniques and many other nano tools are to be equipped with Nano devices to replace certain machineries in an effective way.
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Nanotechnology would advance Agricultural research to produce unaffected seeds and detection of diseases and pests to treat the plants. Smart sensors and delivery systems will help Nanotechnology in prevention of viruses and crop pathogens.
Nanotechnology controls the agricultural process by producing its miniature which comes with many potential benefits like enhancing food security and quality, reducing agricultural inputs, instilling nanoscale nutrients into the soil, adding nano fertilizers, etc. Nanotechnology has the goal of improving agriculture with novel nanotools and controlling diseases and increasing the plants capability to absorb nutrients from the soil without deteriorating or contaminating the resources.
The future of Nanotechnology depends on public awareness and overcoming their threat of health and security. It has the potential to transform the way of agriculture in regard to its benefits but it also has certain challenges which cannot be overlooked.