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Nanotechnology: An Agricultural Paradigm

This book highlights the implications of nanotechnology and the effects of nanoparticles on agricultural systems, their interactions with plants as well as their potential applications as fertilizers and pesticides. It also discusses how innovative, eco-friendly approaches to improve food and agricultural systems lead to increased plant productivity. Further, it offers insights into the current trends and future prospects of nanotechnology along with the benefits and risks and their impact on agricultural ecosystems. contentNanomaterials in agriculture reduce the amount of chemical products sprayed by means of smart delivery of active ingredients; minimize nutrient losses in fertilization; and increase yields through optimized water and nutrient management. There is also huge potential for nanotechnology in the provision of state-of-the-art solutions for various challenges faced by agriculture and society, both today and in the future.

Chapter 12

Nanotechnology for Enhancing Crop Productivity

Suresh Kaushik and S.R. Djiwanti

Agriculture is currently facing a number of challenges like low nutrient use efficiency, stagnation in crop yields, multi-nutrient deficiencies, climate change, and water availability. One of the frontier technologies like nanotechnology can be explored to detect precisely and supply the accurate quantity of plant nutrients and pesticides to enhance crop productivity in agriculture. Nanotechnology involves the designing, production, characterization and application of devices, structures, and systems by controlling the size and shape at nanometer scale. Nanotechnology using nanodevices and nanomaterials provides new avenues for potential novel applications in agriculture such as efficient delivery of pesticide and fertilizer using nanomaterial-based formulations such as nano-fertilizers, nano-pesticides, and nano-herbicides. New innovative smart delivery systems and sensitive nano-biosensor-based technology have great potential to solve the problems faced in crop production. This chapter summarizes some new developments in smart delivery systems and nano biosensor-based technology for enhancing crop productivity.

Genetic Improvements of traits for enhancing NPK Acquisition and Utilization Efficiency in Plants

Book title: Plant Macronutrient Use Efficiency: Molecular and Genomic Perspectives in Crop Plants

Editors: Mohammad Anwar Hossain, Takehiro Kamiya, David J. Burrit, Lam-Son Phan Tran and Toru Fujiwara

Publisher: Academic Press, Elsevier


Genetic Improvements of traits for enhancing NPK Acquisition and Utilization Efficiency in Plants

Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry : A Rapid Technique for Multi-Elements Determination at the Ultra-Trace Level



Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) is a type of mass spectrometry which is capable of detecting metals and several non-metals at concentrations as low as one part per trillion. ICP-MS is undoubtedly the fastest growing trace element technique available today. It allows determination of elements with atomic mass ranges 7 to 250. It is able to detect the elements upto part per trillion levels and this ability to carry out rapid multi-elements  determination at the ultra-trace level  have made it very popular in diverse range of applications areas  including environment, geochemical, semiconductor, metallurgical, nuclear, chemical, climatic and biotechnology. In recent years, industrial and biological monitoring has presented major need for metal analysis by ICP-MS. Other uses is in the medical and forensic field, specifically, toxicology and heavy metal poisoning.

For basics of ICP-MS working, please click on the following link…..



Opening Black Box of Soil Microbial Diversity through Molecular Techniques


Biodiversity is generally defined as the variety and variability of living organisms and the ecosystems in which this occurs. The variability of life in the soil encompasses not only plants and animals but also the invertebrates and microorganisms that are interdependent on one another and the higher plants they support. Biodiversity is composed of three interrelated elements: genetic, functional and taxonomic diversity as shown in Figure 1. Taxonomic diversity i.e. the number of species forms an important part of an ecosystem’s diversity and is controlled by the genetic diversity. Genetic diversity can be much more than the number of recognized species. Hence, several species may have the same functions, resulting in functional redundancy. Some species may also interact to perform functions not possible by any single species. Therefore, biodiversity is the interaction of all these elements.

Soil biodiversity is more extensive than any other environment on the globe when all living forms are considered. The soil biota contains representations of all groups of microorganisms, fungi, bacteria, algae and viruses, as well as the microfauna such as protozoa and nematodes. The total diversity is equal to greater than any coral reef or rain forest. Soil algae and protozoa, like higher plants and animals, can be identified by their morphology. Fungi and bacteria, however, require more extensive biochemical and genetic analysis to enable identification.

It has been estimated that only between 1 and 5% of all microorganisms on the earth have been named and classified. A large proportion of these unknown species is thought to reside in the soil. The possible numbers of existing species of different groups are 1.5 million species of fungi, 300,000 species of bacteria, 400,000 species of nematodes and 40,000 species of protozoa. New molecular techniques have been used to estimate that single gram of soil probably contains several thousand bacterial species.

 Opening Black Box of Soil Microbial Diversity through Molecular Techniques



Biotechnology for enhancing micronutrients (Zn, Fe) acquisition and uptake efficiency in plants

Improvement of micronutrient acquisition in area where micronutrients (Zn, Fe, Cu & Mn) deficiency in soils limits crop productivity is probably the most challenging and rewarding areas of research to achieve the sustainable productivity of agricultural crops. Progress made in recombinant DNA technology in recent years and the application of molecular techniques has advanced our understanding in unraveling the mechanisms of acquisition of micronutrients by the plants from less-labile of soil pools and role of genes involved in these processes, and have provided an altogether new dimension to agricultural research.




Biotechnology for enhancing micronutrients such as Zinc, Iron etc.



Intelligent Nano-Fertilizers

Many of anthropogenic activities modified the nutrient cycles of major and micro nutrients of worlds. The scale of these changes has massively accelerated since the industrial revolution throwing the equilibrium into disarray. Mineral nutrients  such as nitrogen, phosphorous potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulphur, and other micronutrients are essential for plant growth and crop production.  Presently, we face a glaring contrast of insufficient use of nutrients on one hand and excessive use on another. Nutrients Use efficiency (NUE) represents a key indicator to assess progress towards better nutrient management. Fertilizers are chemical compounds applied to promote plant growth. It is applied either through the soil or by foliar feeding. Artificial fertilizers are inorganic fertilizers formulated in approximate concentration to supply the nutrients. Nitrogen is an important source which is essential for the growth of plant. Urea is the most wildly used water soluble plant nitrogen source. Due to leaching the nitrogen content in the soil get decreased leading to low nitrogen utilization efficiency. Nitrogen-use efficiency for most crops ranges from 30 to 50 percent, so researchers are developing intelligent nano-fertilizers to reduce the amount of nitrogen lost during the crop production.  The plant needs different amount of nitrogen depending on its growth stage. A new generation of fertilizers will increase this efficiency from 30 percent to upwards of 80 percent. The idea is to develop a product that will release nitrogen only when the plant needs it and in the amount the plant needs. The plants communicate their surroundings environment by producing all kinds of chemical signals. A plant synthesizes specific compounds to communicate with specific microbes. The microbes then go to work and free nitrogen that the plant uses to grow. Thus, roots send out signal that ask microbes to transform nitrogen in the soil into a chemical form the plant can use. Many chemical compounds that are associated  with nitrogen uptake have been identified. These compounds can be used to synchronize the release of fertilizer with nitrogen uptake by the crop. Similarly, a plant under attack by insects or soil pathogen triggers defense mechanisms that synthesize alkaloids or antibiotics emitted into the surrounds soil to defense itself. A biosensor is a device that combines a biological recognition element with a physical or chemical transducer to detect a biological product. In other words, it is a probe that integrates a biological one with an electronic component to yield a measurable signal. Several biosensors are being developed for different applications. Typically a biosensor consists of three components: the biological recognition element, the transducer and the signal processing electronics. Nano-biosensors that will bind to these compounds can be developed so as to control of the release of fertilizers. The polymers coatings that protects the fertilizers from the elements contains nano-sized biosensors which are made up of very specific chemical compounds that allow the fertilizers to be released into the soil when the plant needs it. These biosensors know when to release nitrogen because they are able to detect chemical signals released from the roots of the plant to the soil. Biosensors can detect when a plant requires more nitrogen and allow microbes access to the fertilizer-nitrogen inside the polymer protected particles.  As mentioned earlier that each plant species sends out its own variety of chemical signals. Keeping this concept in mind, an intelligent nano-fertilizer product could be tailored to respond differently to the needs of different crops. For instance, the nitrogen particles could be designated to become available to wheat, but not to the canola growing in the same field because of different compounds emitted by different crops. We can prepare different biosensors using different compounds and tailor the fertilizers to each different crop for different climatic zones and soils. Dr. Carlos Montreal of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Ottawa is one of the several research scientists developing a fertilizer that responds to organic compounds emitted by a plant’s roots. The research team is trying to make  intelligent fertilizers with the biodegradable three-dimensional polymer coating less than 100 nm  thick. Nitrogen-use efficiency for most crops ranges from 30 to 50 percent. Intelligent nano-fertilizers could be used to reduce the amount of nitrogen lost during the crop production.  The plant needs different amount of nitrogen depending on its growth stage. A new generation of smart fertilizers will increase this efficiency from 30 percent to upwards of 80 percent. Smart biosensors and smart delivery systems will help in enhancing productivity in agriculture. Hence, in coming years farmers could have access to an intelligent nano-fertilizer  that synchronizes the release of nitrogen with crop uptake.


Phytoremediation of toxic metals from contaminated soils via biotechnology

The major challenge facing society in the twenty-first century is to feed and provide for increasing numbers of people while protecting human health and the environment. To accomplish this we must combine traditional technologies with modern technologies. Contamination of soil and water by industrial effluents and sewage waste is one of the major problems faced by the modern world. The intensive use of potentially toxic compounds by industry and past failures to properly dispose of hazardous material particularly toxic metals now necessitate new methods for the remediation of polluted soil and water. Research efforts are currently being directed at the development of being less invasive, more economical plant-based phytoremediation technology in removing toxic pollutants particularly toxic metals. Plants have a remarkable ability to extract and concentrate elements and compounds from air, water, and soil. They spend most of their lives as solar-driven pumping stations and chemical factories. Recently, attempts have been made to harness this ability for purposes of environmental remediation. The term phytoremediation has been introduced to describe this process. Phytoremediation is the use of plants to remove pollutants from the environment or to render them harmless. This is being developed as a technology for remediating volatile and nonvolatile organic and toxic metal pollution. However, removal of toxic metals from soils is an area in which phytoremediation may have a particular impact because of the lack of alternative technologies that are affordable and effective. Plants that hyperaccumumulate toxic metals are rare. Such hyperaccumulators are taxonomically widespread throughout the plant kingdom. More than 350 species of plant are known to accumulate metal such as nickel, zinc, copper, cadmium, selenium or manganese in high levels. For example, naturally occurring hyperaccumulating plants like Thlaspi caerulescens, Serbetia accuminata, Alyssum and Astragolum species which acquire in their tissues high levels of metals such as cadmium, zinc, nickel, have been shown to sequester more than 1% of their dry mass of heavy metals from contaminated soil. Over the past 20 years, many crop and related weed species have been screened for metal uptake, translocation and tolerance. Much effort has been focussed on the Brassica family to which many hyperaccumulators species belong. However, the potential for application of hyperaccumulators in phytoremediation is limited by several factors such as slow growing, generate insufficient biomass for practical large-scale application, and demonstrate affinity for only one or two toxic elements.

A fundamental understanding of the biochemical processes involved in plant metal uptake, translocation and hyperaccumulation in normal and metals hyperaccumulators, regulatory control of these activities, and the use of tissue-specific promoters offers great promise that use of molecular biology tools can give scientist the ability to develop effective and economic phytoremediation transgenic plants for toxic metals. So, a long term effort should be directed towards developing a “molecular tool box” composed of genes valuable for phytoremediation.

Metagenomics: New Challenges Ahead in Molecular Soil Ecology


Metagenomics is the culture-independent analysis of a mixture of microbial genomes using an approach based either on expression or on sequencing. The term is derived and coined from the statistical concept of meta-analysis and genomics to capture the notion of analysis of a collection of similar but not identical
items. The meta-analysis is a process of statistically combining separate analyses, that is, analysis of analysis. Metagenomics is the application of the methods of genomics to microbial assemblages. It involves studying the genetic makeup of many microbes in an environment simultaneously, and makes accessible the
many types of microbes that cannot be grown in the lab and therefore cannot be studies using the central tool of classical microbiology. Metagenomics also enables the study of entire microbial communities,offering a window to intact microbial system. The emerging field of metagenomics presents the greatest
opportunity to revolutionize understanding of the living world.


Enhancing micronutrients acquisition efficiency in plants through biotechnological techniques


Micronutrient uptake and accumulation traits are inherited. Two distinct biotechnological techniques could be used to improve the micronutrient acquisition in crops. One is the use of DNA molecular markers (RFLP, RAPD) as genetic tags for the trait in plant breeding programmes and the second is the introduction of defined genetic material through transgenic technology. In this reviews, we will summarize current knowledge about genes whose products function in uptake, transport and accumulation of micronutrients such as iron, zinc, manganese and copper in plants. Several genes have been identified on the basis of function, via complementation of yeast mutants, or on the basis of sequence similarity, via databases analysis, degenerate PCR. The recent progress in the area of recombinant DNA technologies, is likely to provide us an option to improve micronutrient acquisition.

For more details, please click here Enhancing nutrients


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