Area of Research

Development of nano-based agri-inputs for precision agriculture

Nanoscale agri-inputs are envisioned that would have the capability to detect and treat diseases, nutrient deficiencies or any other maladies in crops, long before symptoms were visually exhibited. “Smart Delivery Systems” for agriculture can possess timely controlled, spatially targeted, self and remotely regulated, pre-programmed, or multi-functional characteristics, to avoid biological barriers to successful targeting. Smart delivery systems can monitor the effects of delivery of nutrients or bioactive molecules or any pesticide molecules. This is widely used in health sciences wherein nano-particles are exploited to deliver required quantities of medicine to the site of need in human system.

  • Synthesis and characterization of nano-based agri-input formulation using natural / biological nano-materials
  • Study of nano-agri input formulations on soil characteristics, crop nutrition and use efficiency in plant system
  • Differential expression studies with conventional and nanoforms of inputs
  • Nanotoxicological studies and biosafety of nano-products

Fabrication of nano-packaging to extend the shelf-life of perishables

Despite India is the second largest producer of both fruits (81.3 million tonnes) and vegetables (161 million tonnes) next to China, the per capita availability fruits and vegetables together (demand 400 g; supply 265 g) is nearly 35-40% of its demand. Such a wide gap between demand and availability is attributed to the post-harvest losses, which accounts for 30-35% of the production with a huge economic drain of Rs.200,000 crores annually (PTI September 1, 2013), owing to the absence of adequate processing, packaging and preservation facilities. In order to address a challenging issue of post harvest management of perishables in India, several strategies are being adopted with marginal success at the farm gate due to the obvious reasons such as smaller farm holding, less access to cold storage besides poor infrastructure. Under these bundle of constraints, packaging industries started exploiting innovative technologies such as nanotechnology to prevent post harvest losses. It has been reported that more than 300 commercially available nano-packaging is being used across the globe and it is expected to grow exponentially in the years to come.

The Department of Nano Science & Technology has a major project to address the post-harvest losses using nanotechnological approaches

  • Development of ready to use nano-emulsion of hexanal to extend the shelf-life of fruits in the orchards and storage& transport
  • Fabrication of nano-matrices using top down approaches to fortify bioactive (hexanal) compound into the packaging material
  • Encapsulation of hexanal using biodegradable polymers integrated with nano-cellulose derived from banana pseudostem

Early detection of diseases and pests using diagnostic kits and biosensors

Protection of the soil health and the environment requires the rapid, sensitive detection of pollutants and pathogens with molecular precision. Soil fertility evaluation is being carried out for the past sixty years with the same set of protocols which may be obsolete for the current production systems and in the context of precision farming approaches. Accurate sensors are needed for in situdetection, as miniaturized portable devices, and as remote sensors, for the real-time monitoring of large areas in the field. Generally speaking, a sensor is a device built to detect a specific biological or chemical compound, usually producing a digital electronic signal upon detection. Sensors are now used for the identification of toxic chemical compounds at ultra low levels (ppm and ppb) in industrial products, chemical substances, water, air and soil samples, or in biological systems. Nanosensors are believed to be used to determine nutrient, moisture and physiological status of plants that assist in taking up, appropriate and timely corrective measures. Nano-particles are mini laboratories having the potential to precisely monitor temporal and seasonal changes in the soil-plant system.

Nanosensors detect the availability of nutrients and water precisely, which is very much essential to achieve the mission of precision agriculture.

  • Assaying of target molecules for detecting the diseases
  • Immobilize or conjugate the target molecules in nano-particles and interact with analytes
  • Development of gadgets for detection using immune-nanotechnologial approaches
  • Validation of diagnostic kits for early detection of diseases, pests and nutrients

Nanotoxicological studies and biosafety of nano-products

Current research on the risks presented by the engineered nanomaterials is rather limited. However, it is sufficient to alert all to the fact that some engineered nanomaterials do indeed behave differently to their more conventional counterparts and may present new and unusual risks. Though the nano-agri inputs are yet to hit the farm lands, laboratory studies are being taken up to assess the impact of engineered nano-particles on the physiological processes in plants. As the saying goes ‘little knowledge is very dangerous’, this holds good with the current status of information related to nano-toxicity. History reveals that all science advancements overcame the fear psychosis. Hence, it is too primitive to speculate the issue of nanotoxicity. Instead, nanotoxicological studies may pave ways for a wide array of avenues and opportunities to explore and address all associated issues well before nano-based processes and products hit the farm land. The Center is intended to establish a biosafety and nanotoxicity studies and evolve “Biosafety Framework” to oversee the biosafety and toxicity issues. Nano Agiculture is an emerging area of interest that is expected to achieve the food and nutritional security.

While carrying out such extra-ordinary endeavours, care should be taken to find undesirable properties of nano-particles if any so as to make nano-science an enabling technology for plant sciences.

  • Impact of synthesized nano-particles of agricultural use on soil organisms at cellular and genome levels
  • Assess the relationships between accumulation potential and properties of nano-particles in soil microflora (Toxicokinetics of nano-particles in soil organisms)
  • Life cycle studies of nano-particles in soil micro environment
  • Influence of nano-particles on human cell lines
  • Development of “Biosafety Framework”