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A new route for plant nutrient delivery


by Alexandra George, Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Agriculture around the globe requires new solutions for food and water sustainability. With more frequent climate extremes, growing populations, increased food demand, and global crop threats, environmental engineers are searching for solutions to manage food production for the future, starting at the tiniest level.With current practices, up to 95 percent of applied micronutrients and 99.9 percent of applied pesticides never reach their destinations and are wasted. They accumulate in the soil or run off into the ground water and cause collateral environmental damage, degrade soil, and waste the water and energy used in their production and application.

If growers could apply something to the leaf that could travel directly to the root, it could be a game changer for delivering nutrients, antibiotics and pesticides in a nearly 100 percent efficient way. Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Greg Lowry, post-doctoral researcher Astrid Avellan, and a team of researchers have successfully discovered a way to apply nanoparticles to plant leaves so that they travel through the plant all the way to the root. Their results are published in a recent ACS Nano paper.

"The results from our paper really have the potential to transform the way we deliver agrochemicals to plants," said Lowry.

This is the first time that anyone has systematically studied how nanoparticles move through the leaf, into the plant, to the root, and exude into the soil.

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