Can Nanotubes Help Your Garden Grow?

October 6, 2009 by Miranda Marquit weblog
Image credit: Jack Dykinga. These are tomatoes grown with the ACC synthase gene.

( -- When we think of nanotubes, we often think of solar panels and physical science. However, it appears that nanotubes can also provide valuable help to plants as a fertilizer. Just add carbon nanotubes, say researchers at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, and you can get plants that grow faster and bigger than their counterparts.

According to New Scientist, Mariya Khodakovskaya, a plant biologist, and Alexandru Biris, a nanotechnologist, used carbon nanotubes to encourage germination of tomato plants. Tomato seeds were planted, some with a growth medium containing carbon nanotubes, and some without nanotubes in the growth medium. It took only three days for more than 30% of the nanotube tomato seeds to begin sprouting. In that time, none of the non-treated seeds had even germinated.

In fact, it took 12 days for 32% of the tomato seeds without nanotube help to germinate.

Image: ACS Nano, DOI: 10.1021/nn900887m

After four weeks, the researchers noticed that the tomato plants that had been treated with carbon nanotubes had two times the biomass and two times the height of their non-treated counterparts. The current theory is that the nanotubes penetrate the seed coat of the tomato seeds, allowing water to more rapidly penetrate the seeds and boost their development.

Interestingly, the root systems were similar in all of the plants, so the nanotubes did not change the way the roots established themselves. Another issue is that the nanotubes seem to be causing abnormally long internodes, and that might affect the ultimate outcome regarding the viability of mature plants. Additionally, carbon nanotubes as fertilizer might present hazards when used for food plants, since they were found to trigger some toxic effects in mice.

In the end, though, it appears that carbon may be more versatile than originally imagined.

More information: The research has been published in ACS Nano: Carbon Nanotubes Are Able To Penetrate Plant Seed Coat and Dramatically Affect Seed Germination and Plant Growth, DOI: 10.1021/nn900887m

© 2009

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3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 06, 2009
Sometimes it feels like we're just making up execuses to use nanotubes for more applications.

The article ends in a massive understatement:

" appears that carbon nanotubes may be more versatile than originally imagined." - oh really?

3.5 / 5 (2) Oct 06, 2009
"two times the biomass and two times the height of their non-treated counterparts", these numbers are unreal, the best fertilisers could only hope to get a fraction of this, if this is verified independently then agriculture is going to get a major boost, toxicity concerns must addressed still though
3.6 / 5 (5) Oct 06, 2009
Did they ever consider that it's not the nanotubes, but the carbon that does this? I mean doesn't ash make a good fertilizer? That's just carbon. They should show results of nanotubes vs crushed charcoal imo.

I also agree with rincewind - seems like every other day there's another article up here proclaiming a new miracle that nanotubes can perform. Boosts solar call efficiency, facilitates drug transport, make them conductors/semiconductors, and now they can replace miraclegrow! Oh what wonders will they come up with next? Sprinkle some on your head to regrow your hair!
Oct 07, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
3.5 / 5 (4) Oct 07, 2009
I'll just let other people conduct the experiment on themselves by eating this stuff thanks. Bio active in plants = bio active in people.
5 / 5 (2) Oct 07, 2009
just what the world needs, a new $20,000 tomato.
5 / 5 (1) Oct 08, 2009
Bio active in plants = bio active in people.

not necessarily...

not rated yet Oct 12, 2009
I'm with the guy who says sprinkle some ash and charcoal and see if you get the same result. Twice the growth is completely insane though.
not rated yet Oct 12, 2009
Did they ever consider that it's not the nanotubes, but the carbon that does this? I mean doesn't ash make a good fertilizer? That's just carbon. They should show results of nanotubes vs crushed charcoal imo.

Not true. Ash is not just carbon. Carbon mostly burns off when fire makes ash, that's where the CO2 comes from. The ash is composed of all the incombustible minerals. Potassium, calcium phosphorous etc. These are important fertilizers.

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