Scientists have used nanotechnology in some bizarre applications—nanotube speakers and glue are just two examples. Now carbon nanotubes may have a use as fertilizer, according to a new study. Plant biologist Mariya Khodakovskaya and nanotechnologist Alexandru Biris … planted tomato seeds in a growth medium that contained carbon nanotubes. They found that the seeds germinated sooner and seedlings grew faster than those in a non-treated medium [New Scientist]. After 12 days, 72 percent of the treated seeds had germinated compared with 30 percent of the untreated group. After four weeks, the nanotube-supplemented seeds were twice as tall and had twice the biomass. However, the root systems in both groups were roughly the same.
Similar findings have been reported previously, but until now nobody understood how nanotubes sped and enhanced plant growth. The new study, which recently appeared in the journal ACS Nano, proposes that nanotubes poke holes in the seeds, which allows water to seep in and speeds up germination. However, some researchers are skeptical that a complex process like germination can be enhanced simply by poking holes in the seed’s coating, and at least one researcher is suggesting that the nanotubes cause a hormonal imbalance in the plants.
Before nanotubes could become a commercial fertilizer, their effect on the environment would have to be studied, with close attention to how nanotubes move through the food chain. Some single-walled nanotubes are toxic to some insects; testing on mice has found multi-layer nanotubes (like the kind used in the study) have carcinogenic effects similar to those of asbestos [Popular Science].
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