Nanotechnology could help to improve the sustainable production of crops for food or fuels. Melanie Kah, University of Auckland, New Zealand, Nathalie Tufenkji, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada, and Jason C. White, Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven, CT, USA, have reviewed possible uses of nanotechnology in agriculture and evaluated their potential risks and benefits.
The team summarized challenges in crop production, such as keeping up with the increasing demand of a growing world population by optimizing the nutrient and water supplies. They looked at nano-based methods to solve these problems. These approaches include, e.g., nano-based delivery systems for pesticides or nutrients, nanoparticles that can prevent pathogen infections, or nanosensors to detect pests, pathogens, or the plants’ nutritional or water status. Nanomaterials could also make plants more resilient under adverse conditions or improve the soil’s properties.
Therefore, the researchers conclude that nanotechnology is promising to address problems in crop production. However, they state that further research is needed, since most of these technologies are still in their early stages and only a few nanoagrochemicals are commercially available.
The team also looked at the safety of nanomaterials. Agrochemicals, nano-based or not, need to adhere to stringent regulations in many countries. However, current methods of risk assessment may not always be suited to nanomaterials and approval decisions are often made on a case-by-case basis. The researchers recommend more comprehensive safety evaluations. They also point out that public perception needs to be kept in mind because consumer acceptance is important for the commercial use of agrochemicals on a large scale—similar to genetically modified crops, for example.
- Nano-enabled strategies to enhance crop nutrition and protection,
Melanie Kah, Nathalie Tufenkji, Jason C. White,
Nat. Nanotechnol. 2019, 14, 532–540.