Much of the funding and research in nanobiotechnology has been directed at applying nanotechnology toward treating human illnesses and injuries. Dr. Edward Corredor and his collegues looked at something else: plants.
The possibility of targeting the movement of nanoparticles to specific sites of an organism paves the way for the use of nanobiotechnology in the treatment of plant diseases that affect specific parts of a plant. . . .
Recently, our group has applied carbon-coated iron nanoparticles to pumpkin plants in order to develop tools for the directed release of chemicals into plant organs susceptible to infection by pathogens that spefically attack them. . . .
The aim of this work was to analyse the penetration and movement of nanoparticles into plant cells, and the capacity of a magnetic field to retain them in spefic part of the plant.
Dr. Corredo et al’s recent article in BMC Plant Biology, "Nanoparticle Penetration and Transport in Living Pumpkin Plants: In situ Subcellular Identification", presents the results of their experiments with pumpkin plants. What the experiments showed was
Only the cells containing the nanoparticle agglomerates exhibited more dense cytoplasms. . . .This fact suggested that the penetration of nanoparticles through the tissues did not damage them.
The presence of nanoparticles in epidermal cells after the application by spraying is of special interest. As stated before, one of the main drawbacks of other methods is that they cannot be employed for agronomic purposes. The method used in this work resembles the procedures which would be used by breeders and coordinators of phytosanitary control, employing both large scale and hand-on spraying to leaf surfaces. The fact that nanoparticles passed through the epidermal cell walls opens up the possible application of these nanotechnology tools for agronomical purposes.
In short, carbon coated nanoparticles could be used to target plant diseases and treat specific areas of the plant, much as the last entry on this site discussed using targeted nanoparticles to treat tumours in the human body. Similarily, magets would be used to guide the nanoparticles to where the diseased area is. It’s easy to see how this would benefit farmers: less of their crop would be lost to plant diseases, yielding a higher return on their investment in the form of larger harvests of healthier crops.
Large scale use of targeted nanoparticles is probably a long way down the road, for reasons presented in this article
. . . in order to make the system suitable for agronomical purposes, methodological improvements would need to be made.
And for reasons that are not discussed in the article: (1) the regulatory process, (2) the opposition to wide spread use that would come from various social-political groups, such as Friends of the Earth, which would play out in the media and could create a climate of fear and rejection, such as happened here and in Europe with genetically modified foods, and (3) more testing that would need to be done to see if the nanoparticles would remain in the plants when they are harvested and how such accumulations might affect human or animal health.
Granted, those do lie outside the focus of this article, but they are factors that will need to be considered if the articles results are to become part of the future commericalization of nanobiotechnology.