Are Carbon Nanotubes a Super Fertilizer?

By Brett Israel | October 5, 2009 3:31 pm

spring_webScientists have used nanotechnology in some bizarre applicationsnanotube 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].

Related Content:
DISCOVER: 9 Ways Nanotubes Just Might Rock the World
80beats: Nanotech Products on the Market May Have Unknown Health and Safety Risks
80beats: Nanotubes Could Provide the Key to Flexible Electronics

Image: flickr / wit

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Technology
  • Frank

    How much research is needed to ensure that nano carbon is safe?

    With depleted farm land, dust storms and increasing desertification, this could be a miracle for farmers and the hungry.

    How about nano cloud seeding? Then we can really over run the planet!

  • Hugo van der Merwe

    I would like to know more about the product and the work / trials that has been done.
    I am from South Africa, and if needed would like to do some trials for you.

    Regards,

    Hugo van der Merwe

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