Functional nanomaterials to augment photosynthesis: evidence and considerations for their responsible use in agricultural applications

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At the current population growth rate, we will soon be unable to meet increasing
food demands. As a consequence of this potential problem, considerable
efforts have been made to enhance crop productivity by breeding, genetics
and improving agricultural practices. While these techniques have traditionally
been successful, their efficacy since the ‘green revolution’ have begun to
significantly plateau. This stagnation of gains combined with the negative
effects of climate change on crop yields has prompted researchers to develop
novel and radical methods to increase crop productivity. Recent work has
begun exploring the use of nanomaterials as synthetic probes to augment
how plants use light. Photosynthesis in crops is often limited by their ability
to absorb and exploit solar energy for photochemistry. The capacity to interact
with and optimize how plants use light has the potential to increase the
productivity of crops and enable the tailoring of crops for different environments
and to compensate for predicted climate changes. Advances in the
synthesis and surface modification of nanomaterials have overcome previous
drawbacks and renewed their potential use as synthetic probes to enhance
crop yields. Here, we review the current applications of functional nanomaterials
in plants and will make an argument for the continued development of
promising new nanomaterials and future applications in agriculture. This
will highlight that functional nanomaterials have the clear potential to provide
a much-needed route to enhanced future food security. In addition, we will
discuss the often-ignored current evidence of nanoparticles present in the
environment as well as inform and encourage caution on the regulation of
the nanomaterials in agriculture.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20180048
Number of pages9
JournalInterface Focus
Early online date14 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


  • Food security
  • Nanobionics

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