Category Archives: agriculture

Silver nanoparticles and wormwood tackle plant-killing fungus

I’m back in Florida (US), so to speak. Last mentioned here in an April 7, 2015 post about citrus canker and zinkicide, a story about a disease which endangers citrus production in the US, this latest story concerns a possible solution to the problem of a fungus, which attacks ornamental horticultural plants in Florida. From a May 5, 2015 news item on Azonano,

Deep in the soil, underneath more than 400 plant and tree species, lurks a lethal fungus threatening Florida’s $15 billion a year ornamental horticulture industry.

But University of Florida plant pathologist G. Shad Ali has found an economical and eco-friendly way to combat the plant destroyer known as phytophthora before it attacks the leaves and roots of everything from tomato plants to oak trees.

Ali and a team of researchers with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, along with the University of Central Florida and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, have found that silver nanoparticles produced with an extract of wormwood, an herb with strong antioxidant properties, can stop several strains of the deadly fungus.

A May 4, 2015 University of Florida news release, which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

“The silver nanoparticles are extremely effective in eliminating the fungus in all stages of its life cycle,” Ali said. “In addition, it has no adverse effects on plant growth.” [emphasis mine]

The silver nanoparticles measure 5 to 100 nanometers in diameter – about one one-thousandth the width of a human hair. Once the nanoparticles are sprayed onto a plant, they shield it from fungus. Since the nanoparticles display multiple ways of inhibiting fungus growth, the chances of pathogens developing resistance to them are minimized, Ali said. Because of that, they may be used for controlling fungicide-resistant plant pathogens more effectively.

That’s good news for the horticulture industry. Worldwide crop losses due to phytophthora fungus diseases are estimated to be in the multibillion dollar range, with $6.7 billion in losses in potato crops due to late blight – the cause of the Irish Potato Famine in the mid-1800s when more than 1 million people died – and $1 billion to $2 billion in soybean loss.

Silver nanoparticles are being investigated for applications in various industries, including medicine, diagnostics, cosmetics and food processing.  They already are used in wound dressings, food packaging and in consumer products such as textiles and footwear for fighting odor-causing microorganisms.

Other members of the UF research team were Mohammad Ali, a visiting doctoral student from the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan; David Norman and Mary Brennan with the University of Florida’s Plant Pathology-Mid Florida Research and Education Center; Bosung Kim with the University of Central Florida’s chemistry department; Kevin Belfield with the College of Science and Liberal Arts at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the University of Central Florida’s chemistry department.

Ali’s comment about silver nanoparticles not having any adverse effects on plant growth is in contrast to findings by Mark Wiesner and other researchers at  Duke University (North Carolina, US). From my Feb. 28, 2013 posting (which also features a Finnish-Estonia study showing no adverse effects from silver nanoparticles  in crustaceans),

… there’s a study from Duke University suggests that silver nanoparticles in wastewater which is later put to agricultural use may cause problems. From the Feb. 27, 2013 news release on EurekAlert,

In experiments mimicking a natural environment, Duke University researchers have demonstrated that the silver nanoparticles used in many consumer products can have an adverse effect on plants and microorganisms.

The main route by which these particles enter the environment is as a by-product of water and sewage treatment plants. [emphasis] The nanoparticles are too small to be filtered out, so they and other materials end up in the resulting “sludge,” which is then spread on the land surface as a fertilizer.

The researchers found that one of the plants studied, a common annual grass known as Microstegium vimeneum, had 32 percent less biomass in the mesocosms treated with the nanoparticles. Microbes were also affected by the nanoparticles, Colman [Benjamin Colman, a post-doctoral fellow in Duke’s biology department and a member of the Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT)] said. One enzyme associated with helping microbes deal with external stresses was 52 percent less active, while another enzyme that helps regulate processes within the cell was 27 percent less active. The overall biomass of the microbes was also 35 percent lower, he said.

“Our field studies show adverse responses of plants and microorganisms following a single low dose of silver nanoparticles applied by a sewage biosolid,” Colman said. “An estimated 60 percent of the average 5.6 million tons of biosolids produced each year is applied to the land for various reasons, and this practice represents an important and understudied route of exposure of natural ecosystems to engineered nanoparticles.”

“Our results show that silver nanoparticles in the biosolids, added at concentrations that would be expected, caused ecosystem-level impacts,” Colman said. “Specifically, the nanoparticles led to an increase in nitrous oxide fluxes, changes in microbial community composition, biomass, and extracellular enzyme activity, as well as species-specific effects on the above-ground vegetation.”

Getting back to Florida, you can find Ali’s abstract here,

Inhibition of Phytophthora parasitica and P. capsici by silver nanoparticles synthesized using aqueous extract of Artemisia absinthium by Mohammad Ali, Bosung Kim, Kevin Belfield, David J. Norman, Mary Brennan, & Gul Shad Ali. Phytopathology  http://dx.doi.org/10.1094/PHYTO-01-15-0006-R Published online April 14, 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

For anyone who recognized that wormwood is a constituent of Absinthe, a liquor that is banned in many parts of the world due to possible side effects associated with the wormwood, here’s more about it from the Wormwood overview page on WebMD (Note: Links have been removed),

Wormwood is an herb. The above-ground plant parts and oil are used for medicine.

Wormwood is used in some alcoholic beverages. Vermouth, for example, is a wine beverage flavored with extracts of wormwood. Absinthe is another well-known alcoholic beverage made with wormwood. It is an emerald-green alcoholic drink that is prepared from wormwood oil, often along with other dried herbs such as anise and fennel. Absinthe was popularized by famous artists and writers such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Manet, van Gogh, Picasso, Hemingway, and Oscar Wilde. It is now banned in many countries, including the U.S. But it is still allowed in European Union countries as long as the thujone content is less than 35 mg/kg. Thujone is a potentially poisonous chemical found in wormwood. Distilling wormwood in alcohol increases the thujone concentration.

Returning to the matter at hand, as I’ve noted previously elsewhere, research into the toxic effects associated with nanomaterials (e.g. silver nanoparticles) is a complex process.

US Dept. of Agriculture awards $3.8M for nanotechnology research grants

I wonder just how much funding the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) is devoting to nanotechnology this year (2015). I first came across an announcement of $23M in the body of a news item about Zinkicide (my April 7, 2015 posting),

Found in Florida orchards in 2005, a citrus canker, citrus greening, poses a serious threat to the US state’s fruit industry. An April 2, 2105 news item on phys.org describes a possible solution to the problem,

Since it was discovered in South Florida in 2005, the plague of citrus greening has spread to nearly every grove in the state, stoking fears among growers that the $10.7 billion-a-year industry may someday disappear.

Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded the University of Florida a $4.6 million grant aimed at testing a potential new weapon in the fight against citrus greening: Zinkicide, a bactericide invented by a nanoparticle researcher at the University of Central Florida.

An April 29, 2015 article by Diego Flammini for Farm.com describes the latest USDA nanotechnology funding announcement,

In an effort to increase America’s food security, nutrition, food safety and environmental protection, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced $3.8 million in nanotechnology research grants.

Flammini lists three of the eight recipients,

University of Georgia
With $496,192, the research team will develop different sensors that are able to detect fungal pathogens in crops. The project will also develop a smartphone app for farmers to have so they can access their information whenever necessary.

Rutgers University
The school will use its $450,000 to conduct a nationwide survey about nanotechnology and gauge consumer beliefs about it and its relationship to health. Among the specifics it will touch on is the use of visuals to communicate nanotechnology.

University of Massachusetts
The researchers will concentrate their $444,200 on developing a platform to detect pathogens in food that is better than the current methods.

A full list of the recipients can be found in the April 27, 2015 USDA news release featuring the $3.8M in awards,

  • The University of Georgia, Athens, Ga., $496,192
  • University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa., $496,180
  • University of Kentucky Research Foundation, Lexington, Ky., $450,000
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass., $444,200
  • North Dakota State University, Fargo, N.D., $149,714
  • Rutgers University, New Brunswick. N.J., $450,000
  • Pennsylvania State University, University Park, University Park, Pa., $447,788
  • West Virginia University, Morgantown, W. Va., $496,168
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wis., $450,100

You can find more details about the awards in this leaflet featuring the USDA project descriptions for the eight recipients.

Rubbery lettuce is a good thing

The lettuce we eat was cultivated from prickly lettuce, which is now considered a weed. That status may change if scientists at Washington State University (WSU) are successful with their research into the plant’s ability to produce rubber. From an April 6, 2014 WSU news release by Sylvia Kantor (also on EurekAlert),

Prickly lettuce, a common weed that has long vexed farmers, has potential as a new cash crop providing raw material for rubber production, according to Washington State University scientists.

Writing in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, they describe regions in the plant’s genetic code linked to rubber production. The findings open the way for breeding for desired traits and developing a new crop source for rubber in the Pacific Northwest.

“I think there’s interest in developing a temperate-climate source of natural rubber,” said Ian Burke, a weed scientist at WSU and a study author. “It would be really great if prickly lettuce could become one of those crops.”

Here’s what prickly lettuce looks like,

Prickly lettuce, the wild relative of cultivated lettuce, is a potential source for the production of natural rubber. (Photo by Flickr user Jim Kennedy)

Prickly lettuce, the wild relative of cultivated lettuce, is a potential source for the production of natural rubber. (Photo by Flickr user Jim Kennedy)

Here’s a close-up of a prickly lettuce stem with sap,

The milky sap, or latex, of the plant could be used to produce rubber. (Photo by Jared Bell, WSU)

The milky sap, or latex, of the plant could be used to produce rubber. (Photo by Jared Bell, WSU)

Getting back to the prickly lettuce news release,

When the lettuce we eat and grow in our gardens bolts, a milky white sap bleeds from the stem. In prickly lettuce, the wild relative and ancestor of cultivated lettuce, this same substance could prove to be an economically viable source of natural rubber and help alleviate a worldwide threat to rubber production.

Natural rubber is the main ingredient for many everyday products, from boots to condoms to surgical gloves. Roughly 70 percent of the global supply of rubber is used in tires.

But more than half of rubber products are made from synthetic rubber derived from petrochemical sources. And the largest source of natural rubber, the Brazilian rubber tree, is threatened by disease.

Burke has reviewed many studies of prickly lettuce and its cultivated cousins, but one in particular gave him an idea. A study published in 2006 found that the latex in prickly lettuce was very similar to the polymers found in natural rubber.

“It occurred to me that we could grow the heck out of prickly lettuce in eastern Washington,” he said.

Genetic markers for desired traits

He knew that to develop a viable new crop for rubber production, he had to start by understanding the genetics of rubber production in the plant.

Burke, doctoral student Jared Bell and molecular plant scientist Michael Neff began their studies with two distinct samples of prickly lettuce collected from eastern Washington. These differed in their rubber content, leaf shape and tendency to bolt. The scientists were able to identify genetic markers not only for rubber content but for the way the plants grow, including the number of stems produced and bolting.

Sought-after traits in cultivated lettuce – like abundant leaves, a single stem and delayed bolting – are the exact opposite of traits desired for rubber production. Early bolting plants with multiple stems would allow for multiple harvests over the season and potentially maximize rubber yields.

Burke said that selecting for other traits, like water use efficiency, could allow prickly lettuce to be grown with minimal rainfall, meaning it could be grown in rotation with other crops.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Genetic and Biochemical Evaluation of Natural Rubber from Eastern Washington Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola L.) by Jared L. Bell, Ian C. Burke, and Michael M. Neff. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2015, 63 (2), pp 593–602 DOI: 10.1021/jf503934v Publication Date (Web): December 16, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Since graduating, Bell has become  associated with Dow Agrosciences.

Citrus canker, Florida, and Zinkicide

Found in Florida orchards in 2005, a citrus canker, citrus greening, poses a serious threat to the US state’s fruit industry. An April 2, 2105 news item on phys.org describes a possible solution to the problem,

Since it was discovered in South Florida in 2005, the plague of citrus greening has spread to nearly every grove in the state, stoking fears among growers that the $10.7 billion-a-year industry may someday disappear.

Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded the University of Florida a $4.6 million grant aimed at testing a potential new weapon in the fight against citrus greening: Zinkicide, a bactericide invented by a nanoparticle researcher at the University of Central Florida.

An April 2, 2015 University of Central Florida news release by Mark Schlueb (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the problem and the solution (Zinkicide),

Citrus greening – also known by its Chinese name, Huanglongbing, or HLB – causes orange, grapefruit and other citrus trees to produce small, bitter fruit that drop prematurely and is unsuitable for sale or juice. Eventually, infected trees die. Florida has lost tens of thousands of acres to the disease.

“It’s a hundred-year-old disease, but to date there is no cure. It’s a killer, a true killer for the citrus industry,” said Swadeshmukul Santra, associate professor in the NanoScience Technology Center at UCF.

The bacteria that causes HLB is carried by the Asian citrus psyllid, a tiny insect that  feeds on leaves and stems of infected citrus trees, then carries the bacteria to healthy trees.

Zinkicide, developed by Santra, is designed to kill the bacteria.

The $4.6 million grant is the largest of five totaling $23 million that were recently announced by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The evaluation of Zinkicide is a multi-institute project involving 13 investigators from six institutions. Evan Johnson of UF’s [University of Florida] Citrus Research and Education Center at Lake Alfred is the project director, and there are a dozen co-principal investigators from UF, UCF, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Auburn University, New Mexico State University and The Ohio State University.

”Managing systemic diseases like HLB is a difficult challenge that has faced plant pathologists for many years,” said Johnson “It is a privilege to work with an excellent team of researchers from many different disciplines with the goal of developing new tools that are both effective and safe.”

A portion of the grant money, $1.4 million, flows to UCF, where Santra leads a team that also includes Andre Gesquiere, Laurene Tetard and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory collaborator, Loukas Petridis.

HLB control is difficult because current bactericidal sprays, such as copper, simply leave a protective film on the outside of a plant. The insect-transmitted bacteria bypasses that barrier and lives inside a tree’s fruit, stems and roots, in the vascular tissue known as the phloem. There, it deprives the tree of carbohydrate and nutrients, causing root loss and ultimately death. For a bactericide to be effective against HLB, it must be able to move within the plant, too.

Zinkicide is a nanoparticle smaller than a single microscopic cell, and researchers are cautiously optimistic it will be able to move systemically from cell to cell to kill the bacteria that cause HLB.

“The bacteria hide inside the plant in the phloem region,” Santra said. “If you spray and your compound doesn’t travel to the phloem region, then you cannot treat HLB.”

Zinkicide is derived from ingredients which are found in plants, and is designed to break down and be metabolized after its job is done. [emphasis mine]

It’s the first step in a years-long process to bring a treatment to market. UF will lead five years of greenhouse and field trials on grapefruit and sweet orange to determine the effectiveness of Zinkicide and the best method and timing of application.

The project also includes research to study where the nanoparticles travel within the plant, understand how they interact with plant tissue and how long they remain before breaking down. [emphasis mine]

If effective, the bactericide could have a substantial role in combatting HLB in Florida, and in other citrus-producing states and countries. It would also likely be useful for control of other bacterial pathogens infecting other crops.

The Zinkicide project builds as a spinoff from previous collaborations between Santra and UF’s Jim Graham, at the Citrus Research and Education Center to develop alternatives to copper for citrus canker control.

The previous Citrus Research and Education Foundation (CRDF)-funded Zinkicide project has issued three reports, for June 30, 2014, Sept. 30, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2014. This project’s completion date is May 2015. The reports which are remarkably succinct, consisting of two paragraphs, can be found here.

Oddly, the UCF news release doesn’t mention that Zinkicide (although it can be inferred) is a zinc particulate (I’m guessing they mean zinc nanoparticle) as noted on the CRDF project webpage. Happily, they are researching what happens after the bactericide has done its work on the infection. It’s good to see a life cycle approach to this research.

2014 food and nanotechnologies report from the European Food Safety Authority

A Feb. 27, 2015 news item on Nanowerk announced the latest annual report on food and nanotechnologies from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA),

In accordance with European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)’s strategy for cooperation and networking with Member States, a Network for Risk Assessment of Nanotechnologies in Food and Feed was established in 2010. The overall goals of this Network are to facilitate harmonisation of assessment practices and methodologies; to enhance exchange of information and data between EFSA and MS; and to achieve synergies in risk assessment activities. The Annual reports of the Network inform the public and the EFSA Advisory Forum about its specific activities and achievements.

The summary for the EFSA Scientific Network of Risk Assessment of Nanotechnologies in Food and Feed1 for 2014 Technical Report offers more details (Note: A link has been removed),

The Network is composed of representatives from 21 Member States and Norway. In addition, observers to this Network represent the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey and Montenegro. There is also representation from the European Commission (DGSANTE and JRC), from the EFSA Scientific Committee and the relevant Units/Panels.

During 2014, the Network followed-up on its priority areas and contributed to the making of inventory lists of applications of Nanomaterials already present in the food/feed chain.

At its 2014 meeting the Network focussed again on updates of research results from toxicological studies relevant for the oral route of exposure. Member States representatives presented relevant studies. The type of nanomaterials that are now occurring in the food/feed chain are mainly Titanium dioxide (TiO2) and Synthetic Amorphous Silica (SAS). The evidence bases for oral toxicity and for conducting comprehensive risk assessments of these two materials is building up, but more research remains needed. Challenges to draw firm risk assessment conclusions reside in (1) the intake estimation (2) the possible worst-case absorption and the dose-dependence of absorption (3) the potential irrelevance of high dose oral toxicity studies for risk assessment (4) the extrapolation of kinetic data from rat to man (5) the nanoparticle determination in tissues, and (6) the many differences between the types of nanoforms of one nanomaterial (e.g. in kinetics and toxicity). Some differences in behaviour of different nanoforms have been observed, but there is no clear overview. A new issue of concern is that absorption is not linear with dose: high dose studies are often used for tox testing for estimation of safe dose, while the high dose may result in aggregation, agglomeration, gelation and as a consequence dose-dependent absorption.

Challenges also remain to exist regarding the technical aspects for considering a material as a nanomaterial (NM) for the regulatory purpose of food labelling. The NanoDefine project (FP7) is expected to deliver by 2017 an implementable test-scheme for regulatory purposes to distinguish nano from non-nano.

The Network agreed that regardless the current challenges and regardless the % of nanoforms in the bulk material (particle size% or mass%), EFSA should assess the nano-fraction, no matter how small. Food law, as being implemented by the EFSA Panels is covering nanomaterials. Nanomaterials are addressed mainly by cross-referring to the Guidance on the risk assessment of the application of nanoscience and nanotechnologies in the food and feed chain (EFSA Scientific Committee, 2011 http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/2140.pdf). (p. 2 print & PDF versions)

For anyone curious about the European Food and Safety Authority, you can go here.

Canada’s Green Earth Nano Science expands into the European Union

It’s nice to learn of another Canadian ‘nanotechnology’ company. According to a Feb. 6, 2015 news item on Nanotechnology Now, Toronto-based Green Earth Nano Science has recently received some very good business news,

Green Earth Nano Science has signed an Exclusive Distribution Agreement with CleanShield Denmark to bring GENS NANO and SOLARSTUCCO self-cleaning coatings, and AGRIHIT biodegradable cleaners, organic plant based disinfectants, and sanitizers into Denmark, Sweden, Norway and German markets.

A Feb. 1, 2015 Green Earth Nano Science news release, which originated the news item, describes the deal in more detail,

Green Earth Nano Science, Inc., (GENS) from Toronto, Canada is one of the first of the new class of global companies specializing in investment, commercialization, manufacturing, and distribution of new sustainable green environmental technologies. GENS have recently expanded its marketplace to Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Germany through Danish company CleanShield by signing Exclusive License Distribution Agreement for distribution and application of its Gens Nano & SolarStucco branded self-cleaning, anti-bacterial coatings, and AgriHit branded organic disinfectants & sanitizers, natural bio degradable cleaners, natural foliar fertilizers & plant growth & health enhancers.

CleanShield, a Denmark Company, is a growing corporation with an existing applicator and sales networks with customers in key Denmark industrial and hospitality segments. CleanShield has strong capabilities to develop sales distribution and application networks through their connection and relationships with many local businesses, government, health care and hospitality facilities plus building maintenance companies. Green technology products portfolio offered by Green Earth Nano Science, Inc. focuses on constant improvements through commercialization of path breaking technologies that benefit the environment as well as people. Many industries benefit from GENS natural products and environmental solutions, including farming, food, health care, hospitality, commercial and residential industries.

Miroslaw Chrzaniecki, VP from Green Earth Nano Science, Inc. stated: “We are energized with opportunity to serve and expend in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and German territories. Looking just at Denmark, it is one of the World’s richest countries, home to various types of industries including big agricultural production companies making it an ideal frontier for expansion. To add to this fact, Denmark’s principal exports: machinery, instruments, food products, industrial machinery, chemical products, furniture, pharmaceuticals, and canned ham and pork can all benefit GENS’s Green 3D Shield bio security system that works wonders by utilizing herbal natural cleaning technologies. Local farmers as mentioned by Mr. Chrzaniecki can also take advantage of the revolutionary AgriHit Plant Growth & Health Enhancer, made from plant extracts when applied diluted with water on the plant leafs help plants to fight off diseases, repel small insects, fungi attacks. [emphasis mine] Other products we introduce in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Germany are our natural cleaners, organic sanitizers; natural self-cleaning and self-sanitizing antibacterial coatings will benefit many businesses and even home clients as well. For example e-coil, salmonella and other potential devastating outbreaks within food manufactures can be prevented or reduced by application of GENS NANO self sanitizing coating. Hotels and office building and homes can be made as allergy free by treating A/C systems and regular use of food safe, long lasting AgriHit organic disinfectants and by using our plant based antibacterial cleaners in daily cleaning routines. I can talk for hours about many different benefits that together with our exclusive license partners we will introduce in Europe.” opines Miroslaw Chrzaniecki, VP of Green Earth Nano Science, Inc.

On the other hand, Mr. Thomas Gregersen Bowmann, Director of CleanShield shares the same enthusiasm and excitement saying “Now by signing Exclusive Territory Licensing agreement with Canadian company Green Earth Nano Science Inc. we are on the forefront of green revolution in Denmark. With a professional team ready to happily serve and offer these green infection control solutions using GENS’s reliable green-products such as SolarStucco, AgriHit and 3D Shield bio security systems can help sustain our loyal clients’ needs to achieve great savings and reducing outbreak problems while protecting the environment. Crews are experienced and well trained and we are very happy to be able to offer green infection control solutions and implement Green 3D Shield bio security system in their facilities. With the introduction of environment friendly, natural products, we will help our clients to achieve great savings for the whole different industries and also reduce problems associated with outbreaks at the same time. We will be implementing an aggressive marketing strategy to explore all business opportunities in Denmark.”

The AgriHit product, the part about “repel small insects, fungi attacks,” reminds me of Vive Crop Protection (another Toronto-based ‘nano’ company) and its product line. I last mentioned that company in a Nov. 21, 2014 post about the expansion of its manufacturing capabilities.

Getting back to the matter at hand, congratulations to Green Earth Nano Science! You can find out more about CleanShield here, provided you have Danish language skills. For anyone particularly interested in AgriHit (the Green Earth Nano Science [GENS] product), it has its own website here. One comment, I found the GENS website organization a little confusing. I advise checking both the Solutions tab and the Products tab if you’re interested in learning more about their products, as well as, visiting the AgriHit website.

From monitoring glucose in kidneys to climate change in trees

That headline is almost poetic but I admit It’s a bit of a stretch rhymewise, kidneys/trees. In any event, a Feb. 6, 2015 news item on Azonano describes research into monitoring the effects of climate change on trees,

Serving as a testament to the far-reaching impact of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s commitment to maintaining New York State’s global leadership in nanotechnology innovation, SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (SUNY Poly CNSE) today announced the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $837,000 to support development of a first of its kind nanoscale sensor to monitor the effects of climate change on trees.

A Feb. 5, 2015 SUNY Poly CNSE news release, which originated the news item, provides more details including information about the sensor’s link to measuring glucose in kidneys,

The NSF grant was generated through the Instrument Development for Biological Research (IDBR) program, which provides funds to develop new classes of devices for bio-related research. The NANAPHID, a novel aphid-like nanosensor, will provide real-time measurements of carbohydrates in live plant tissue. Carbohydrate levels in trees are directly connected to plant productivity, such as maple sap production and survival. The NANAPHID will enable researchers to determine the effects of a variety of environmental changes including temperature, precipitation, carbon dioxide, soil acidity, pests and pathogens. The nanosensor can also provide real-time monitoring of sugar concentration levels, which are of signficant importance in maple syrup production and apple and grape farming.

“The technology for the NANAPHID is rooted in a nanoscale sensor SUNY Poly CNSE developed to monitor glucose levels in human kidneys being prepared for transplant. Our team determined that certain adjustments would enable the sensor to provide similar monitoring for plants, and provide a critical insight to the effects of climate change on the environment,” said Dr. James Castracane, professor and head of the Nanobioscience Constellation at SUNY Polytechnic Institute. “This is a perfect example of the cycle of innovation made possible through the ongoing nanotechnology research and development at SUNY Poly CNSE’s NanoTech Complex.”

“This new sensor will be used in several field experiments on measuring sensitivity of boreal forest to climate warming. Questions about forest response to rising air and soil temperatures are extremely important for forecasting future atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, climate change and forest health,” said Dr. Andrei Lapenas, principal investigator and associate professor of climatology at the University at Albany. “At the same time, we already see some potential commercial application for NANAPHID-type sensors in agriculture, food industry and other fields. Our collaboration with SUNY Poly CNSE has been extremely productive and I look forward to continuing our work together.”

The NANAPHID project began in 2014 with a $135,000 SUNY Research Foundation Network of Excellence grant. SUNY Poly CNSE will receive $400,000 of the NSF award for the manufacturing aspects of the sensor array development and testing. The remaining funds will be shared between Dr. Lapenas and researchers Dr. Ruth Yanai (ESF), Dr. Thomas Horton (ESF), and Dr. Pamela Templer (Boston University) for data collection and analysis.

“With current technology, analyzing carbohydrates in plant tissues requires hours in the lab or more than $100 a sample if you want to send them out. And you can’t sample the same tissue twice, the sample is destroyed in the analysis,” said Dr. Yanai. “The implantable device will be cheap to produce and will provide continuous monitoring of sugar concentrations, which is orders of magnitude better in both cost and in the information provided. Research questions we never dreamed of asking before will become possible, like tracking changes in photosynthate over the course of a day or along the stem of a plant, because it’s a nondestructive assay.”

“I see incredible promise for the NANAPHID device in plant ecology. We can use the sensors at the root tip where plants give sugars to symbiotic fungi in exchange for soil nutrients,” said Dr. Horton. “Some fungi are believed to be significant carbon sinks because they produce extensive fungal networks in soils and we can use the sensors to compare the allocation of photosynthate to roots colonized by these fungi versus the allocation to less carbon demanding fungi. Further, the vast majority of these symbiotic fungi cannot be cultured in lab. These sensors will provide valuable insights into plant-microbe interactions under field conditions.”

“The creation of this new sensor will make understanding the effects of a variety of environmental changes, including climate change, on the health and productivity of forests much easier to measure,” said Dr. Templer. “For the first time, we will be able to measure concentrations of carbohydrates in living trees continuously and in real-time, expanding our ability to examine controls on photosynthesis, sap flow, carbon sequestration and other processes in forest ecosystems.”

Fascinating, eh? I wonder who made the connection between human kidneys and plants and how that person made the connection.

More mangoes thanks to an Indian-Sri Lankan-Canadian nanotechnologyresearch project

I’ve been wondering what happened since I posted about this ‘mango’ project some years ago (my June 21, 2012 posting and my Nov. 1, 2012 posting) so, it’s nice to get an update from this Fresh Fruit Portal Feb. 4, 2015 posting,

Developed by Canadian, Indian and Sri Lankan researchers in a collaborative project funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the nanotech mango boxes are said to improve the fruit’s resilience and therefore boost quality over long shipping distances.

The project – which also includes the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, India and the Industrial Technical Institute, Sri Lanka – has tested the use of the bio-compound hexanal, an artificially synthesized version of a natural substance produced by injured plants to reduce post-harvest losses.

The nanotech boxes could be particularly significant for India as a world leader in mango production, as well as Sri Lanka where approximately 90,000 metric tons (MT) are produced annually.

The IDRC report says although South Asian fruit production is globally competitive, the region only meets around half of its demand due to poor processing and preservation facilities. Waste can be as high as 35% and amounts to billions of dollars in annual losses.

Historically, the Indian mango sector has suffered severe post-harvest loses due to the lack of cold chain supply infrastructure across the country, and developing a smart packing system like nanotech boxes could therefore be one way to address such challenges.

“Special boxes have been designed to reduce losses during transport. The boxes are sturdy, and can be stacked without risking damage to the fruit, and this alone can reduce post-harvest losses by 10-15%,” the IDRC report continues.

“In order to further improve the storage life of fruits during transport, the project has made a pioneering attempt to develop ‘nano-matrices’ using banana fibers to regulate the release of hexanal.

I wasn’t able to find much more about the project which ended in August 2014 but there is new work being funded as per a Jan. 23, 2015 IDRC news release,

Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD) today announced three new projects to be supported under the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF). The projects will help prevent livestock diseases and post-harvest fruit losses that affect millions of farmers around the world, and build on the successful research carried out during CIFSRF’s first phase. [emphasis mine]

  • Researchers from the University of Guelph, Canada, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, India, and the Industrial Technical Institute, Sri Lanka, have shown that a natural compound known as hexanal delays the ripening of mangos. Using nanotechnology, the team will continue to develop hexanal-impregnated packaging and biowax coatings to improve the fruit’s resilience during handling and shipping for use in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. It will also expand its research to include other fruit and look at ways to commercialize the technologies.

New funding will allow the research teams to further develop the new technologies and involve partners who can bring them to market to reach greater numbers of small-holder farmers.

It seems this new round of funding will help bring these nanotechnology-enabled products to market.

Detecting Ochratoxin A in agricultural products with gold nanoparticles

Iranian researchers have developed a fast, inexpensive way to test for a cancer-causing toxicant found in some agricultural products. From a Jan. 5, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Researchers from Isfahan University of Technology used gold nanoparticles in the production of a detection kit to find cancerous toxicant in agricultural products (“Ultrasensitive and quantitative gold nanoparticle-based immunochromatographic assay for detection of ochratoxin A in agro-products”).

The use of the kit increases speed, sensitivity and ease of application.

A Jan. 5, 2015 Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council (INIC) news release, which originated the news item, describes Ochratoxin A and the kit,

Humans and animals are always threatened by various toxicants naturally produced in different food products. Ochratoxin A is a type of toxicant that is produced by some types of fungi, which has been classified in human cancerous materials (Group B2) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

There are many methods to detect this toxicant, but in addition to high costs, these methods are time-consuming and require skillful and expert people to carry out the tests. The fact is that in many places where the detection of ochratoxin A is a necessity, there is no equipment and the detection process fails.

Increasing the detection speed, ease of application, and reducing costs are among the advantages of the method proposed by the researchers. Obtaining technical knowledge for the production of various detection kits based on this method for different materials is another achievement of the researchers.

In this research, a fast and ultra-sensitive detection kit has been produced based on immunochromatography method. To this end, test tapes have been designed and produced by using gold nanoparticles markers, and the results are obtained by placing the sample on the tape after 15 minutes. Gold nanoparticles create red color after combining with the toxicant and the color is visible by naked eye too.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the published research,

Ultrasensitive and quantitative gold nanoparticle-based immunochromatographic assay for detection of ochratoxin A in agro-products by Marjan Majdinasab, Mahmoud Sheikh-Zeinoddin, Sabihe Soleimanian-Zad, Peiwu Li, Qi Zhang, Xin Li, and Xiaoqian Tang. Journal of Chromatography B Volume 974, 1 January 2015, Pages 147–154. doi:10.1016/j.jchromb.2014.10.034

This paper is behind a paywall.

Congratulations to Vive Crop on its new manufacturing capability

Here’s the latest news from Vive Crop (from the Nov.20, 2014 announcement,

Toronto, ON – Nov 20, 2014 – Vive Crop Protection, Inc. is pleased to announce the opening of its new manufacturing plant to enable commercial production of its advanced product formulations. These technologies leverage Vive’s patented Allosperse® delivery system, providing enhanced agronomic performance and new application opportunities for farmers.

“This plant is the result of the dedicated effort of all our employees and the support of our partners. Completion of our manufacturing plant is a momentous milestone that significantly accelerates our company’s growth,” said Vive CEO Keith Thomas. “Vive’s innovative employees are rapidly developing a strong pipeline of effective crop protection products for our partners and growers.”

Vive’s products have been commercialized from fundamental research conducted at the University of Toronto and funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) I2I program and Ontario Centres of Excellence. Ongoing support has been provided by private investors as well as the Government of Canada through Sustainable Development Technology Canada and FedDev Ontario as well as the Government of Ontario through the Innovation Demonstration Fund and Ontario Capital Growth Corporation. Vive’s plant is located at Halltech Inc., a Canadian manufacturer of polymer emulsions.

About Vive Crop Protection: Vive Crop Protection makes products that better protect crops from pests. The company has won a number of awards and was highly commended for Best Formulation Innovation at the 2012 Agrow Awards. Vive’s patented Allosperse delivery system has the ability to coat plants more evenly, which provides better crop protection and can lead to increased yields. Vive is working with partners across the globe that share its vision of bringing safer, more effective crop protection products to growers everywhere. For more information, see www.vivecrop.com.

Congratulations to everyone at Vive Crop!

For anyone unfamiliar with the company, there’s this description from the Vive Crop website’s homepage,

At Vive, our aim is to develop effective crop protection products, giving farmers better tools to protect their crops.

We use our patented Allosperse® delivery system in formulations that have new, exciting properties that growers care about. Allosperse is a water-dispersible delivery system, meaning that our formulations are made without solvents.

We are looking for partners across the globe that share our vision of bringing effective crop protection products to growers everywhere.

Crop protection sounds like work on pesticides and insecticides to me and given that Vive Crop has won at least one ‘cleantech’ award, I assume that this is a relatively ‘green’ product. I last wrote about Vive Crop in a Dec. 31, 2013 post.

Finally, I was a little puzzled by the mention of Vive Crop’s manufacturing plant as being located at Halltech Inc., a Canadian manufacturer of polymer emulsions located in Scarborough, Ontario. Perhaps they’re sharing space? In any event, you can find Halltech here.