Smart fertilizer knows 'communicating' with plants

Canadian scientists are studying a smart fertilizer that can receive signals from plants, knowing when it is appropriate to fertilize and fertilize how much. This may be a breakthrough in fertilizer production technology in the coming time.

Fertilizer understands each crop

Fertilizer is the money-making industry and Canada is one of the world's leading countries in this area. According to the Grainswest, Canada supplies 12% of the world's fertilizer and exports to more than 80 countries. Each year, the fertilizer industry generates $ 12 billion in economic activity and creates jobs for 12,000 people in Canada. Therefore, it is understandable that Canada has many achievements in science and technology in this field. One of them is the research on smart fertilizer by Carlos Monreal scientist of the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture and Food Agriculture (AAFC).

'I participated in a nitrogen fertilizer research project and found that a lot of nitrogen was wasted due to seeping into the soil that plants could not absorb. For every $ 100 of farmers' fertilizer to be brought to the ground, only $ 30 comes to the crop. The rest is lost. That made me think about the intention to study this damage prevention, ' Monreal told Albertabarley.

Meanwhile, his colleague Maria DeRosa - Professor at Carleton University (Canada) - said on Ottawacitizen that Canadian farmers lost about $ 1 billion a year for wasted fertilizer, never effective with plants. 'Worse yet, this wasted fertilizer will stimulate weed growth and algal blooms, which damage crops' - DeRosa said.

Picture 1 of Smart fertilizer knows 'communicating' with plants
Maria DeRosa scientist and smart fertilizer product.(Photo: Future Farming).

From this problem, the team came up with the idea of ​​developing a smart fertilizer that only releases nitrogen when the plant needs it and in the right amount. They expect this product to increase crop efficiency from 30% to 80%.

Applying nanotechnology

The basic premise of this new fertilizer technology is the capture of communication between living cells in nature. In soil, when nutrient deficiency, the tree will send a signal. In the case of nitrogen deficiency, after the plant sends chemical signals, the bacteria are able to convert the nitrogen in the soil into a form that plants can use to meet that signal by producing ammonium nitrate for the plant. . By listening to this 'chemical conversation' , we can detect when plants need more nitrogen.

The smart fertilizer that Carlos Monreal and his colleagues are developing is nano-sized and covered with a polymer layer to protect fertilizer. This coating contains 'nano biological sensors' - creating a very specific chemical compound - allowing the feces to be released when receiving chemical signals from plant roots that require nutritional supplements. 'It's like a chemical signal that plants use to' communicate 'with their surroundings,' said scientist Carlos Monreal.

To detect these signals, a nano biological sensor was developed. This is essentially a piece of DNA called aptamer . 'The aptamer works like antena. If these aptamers are in a polymer membrane, it can be used to control fertilizer inside the coating when plants need it. When there is a signal from a plant, aptamer will activate the mechanism of releasing nitrogen fertilizer encased inside polymer particles' - Monreal said.

Each plant species produces many different chemical signals, which means that each smart nano fertilizer product is adjusted to meet the needs of a crop. To date, Monreal and his team have discovered creating smart fertilizers that work on wheat, canola and are heading to barley.

'Part of the study is to develop mechanical and technical tools to create a 3D polymer coating that is 100 nanometers thicker,' said Monreal, adding that the coating must withstand decomposition. biology to prevent any environmental impact such as rain or leaching. The team is cooperating with Agrium fertilizer firm and NanoGrande nano-specialized company.

'If everything goes according to plan, we will have many opportunities to work with fertilizer producers interested in commercializing this technology. It is very likely that this fertilizer will reach farmers by 2020, " said research scientist Maria DeRosa.