GardenDrumNanotechnology boosts plant nutrient content

A foliar spray of zinc dioxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles used on tomatoes has increased the total weight of fruit they produced by more than 80%. I know plants use zinc, but titanium?

Scientists at the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Washington University in St Louis, USA, have been experimenting with nanoparticles as a way of increasing food production to meet our planet’s rapidly growing nutrient needs, but without added strain on limited water and natural resources.

tomato brownSounds like a tall order but if you don’t mind nanoparticles in your food, it could be an answer to future world food shortages. (Although have we got enough titanium?)

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide nanoparticles made the tomato plants better able to absorb light for photosynthesis and also other minerals. It also increased the anti-oxidant lycopene content of the tomatoes by 80-113%.


As plants grow, they release enzymes in the soil around their root zones. These enzymes signal bacterial microbes in the soil which then busily convert more nutrients into a plant-friendly form. However as plants can only take up about 20% of soil-applied nutrients, the remainder are wasted or washed a way. By developing a foliar spray through a new aerolisation technique the researchers could apply the nanoparticles to the leaves and greatly increase each tomato plant’s nutrient uptake.

Tomato seedlingsAbsorbed zinc is a conventional plant nutrient that helps enzymes function. Titanium, not a conventional plant nutrient, increases photosynthesis by boosting light absorption and the amount of chlorophyll in the leaves.

The nanoparticle residue in the sample plants was well under the USDA limit and also that which is normally found in conventional fertilisers. The success of this initial research now means that the team will work on ways of incorporating into the nanoparticle foliar spray all 17 elements essential for plant growth.

[More at Metallomics: “Mechanistic evaluation of translocation and physiological impact of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles on the tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) plant“]

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