Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Researchers May Have Found a New Fertilizer– Carbon Nanotubes

Past studies have shown that these microscopic cylinders of carbon atoms may be able to penetrate the tough cell walls of plants. Building on this evidence, two researchers at the University of Arkansas ran an experiment to test whether nanoparticles can penetrate the even tougher coating on unsprouted seeds, which strongly restricts initial growth. They theorized that if nanotubes could be used to penetrate the seed coat, perhaps the plant could increase its initial uptake of water and nutrients and, as a result, speed the early stages of plant growth.

To test this theory, they planted tomato seeds in pots after mixing carbon nanotubes into the growth medium of some. The seeds in the test pots germinated in half the time of the control plants. Twenty-seven days into the experiment, all plants had the same root systems, but the doctored plants were significantly heavier (150%) and about twice as tall. The test plants also absorbed 50% more water and nutrients during germination. When researchers inspected the plants using an electron microscope, they found that the nanotubes had actually entered the plant’s living cells.

Researchers have not yet determined if the nanotubes are present in the tomatoes. However, they did conclude that nanoparticles have major effects on the plant’s ability to take up water and nutrients. Now, scientists are investigating if the nanotubes damage the organisms by interfering with cellular functions or pose a threat to the health of humans who consume the fruit. Therefore, extensive studies must be conducted before this discovery might move from the lab to our dinner plates.

To read more, visit the Economist.

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