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Nanoparticles used to boost tomato growth

The world’s population growth poses problems in terms of food supply, especially with scarce global resources. Digital Journal recently featured a review of international efforts to address the problem, considering options over the next 50 years.

One means to provide more food is by turning to so-called novel foods. This included food stuff not previously considered for human consumption; genetically modified food; and the application of nanotechnology. It is with this latter point that scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy and Washington University have been looking.

Research to date into tomato plants indicates the use of zinc oxide, together with titanium dioxide nanoparticles, enables tomato plants to more effectively absorb sunlight and minerals. This leads to a better crop and, in addition, the resultant fruit has a higher antioxidant content (in relation to the chemical lycopene).

The process is said to mimic what happens within the natural environment. The nutrients a plant needs from soil are not in a form that a plant can utilize immediately. To overcome this plants secrete enzymes, and these enzymes push bacteria to transform nutrients into a form that the plant can use. Nanoparticles aim to enhance this pathway.

The two metal components also confer other benefits in addition to acting as an enzymatic catalyst. Zinc provides nutrients and titanium aids photosynthesis by helping with light absorption, via increasing chlorophyll content in leaves.

In studies, the nanoparticles have been administered to crops in different ways. The most efficient has turned out to be aerosolization, which means the nanoparticles can be sprayed over a large area. This accelerates the intake of the nanoparticles by the tomato plant.

In terms of safety, the United States Department for Agriculture has set limits on metal and nanoparticle content in crops and fruits intended for human consumption.

The experimental findings are published in the journal Metallomics. The paper is titled “Mechanistic evaluation of translocation and physiological impact of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles on the tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) plant.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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