Various nano-enabled strategies are proposed to improve crop production and meet the growing global demands for food, feed and fuel while practising sustainable agriculture. After providing a brief overview of the challenges faced in the sector of crop nutrition and protection, this Review presents the possible applications of nanotechnology in this area. We also consider performance data from patents and unpublished sources so as to define the scope of what can be realistically achieved. In addition to being an industry with a narrow profit margin, agricultural businesses have inherent constraints that must be carefully considered and that include existing (or future) regulations, as well as public perception and acceptance. Directions are also identified to guide future research and establish objectives that promote the responsible and sustainable development of nanotechnology in the agri-business sector.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $14.08 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
The State of Food and Agriculture (FAO, 2017); www.fao.org/3/a-i7658e.pdf
The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges (FAO, 2017); https://reliefweb.int/report/world/future-food-and-agriculture-trends-and-challenges
Creating a Sustainable Food Future (World Resources Institute, 2018).
King, A. Technology: the future of agriculture. Nature 544, S21–S23 (2017).
Roco, M., Williams, R. & Alivisatos, P. Nanotechnology Research Directions. IWGN Workshop Report. (Springer, 1999); www.wtec.org/loyola/nano/IWGN.Research.Directions
Scott, N. R. & Chen, H. Nanoscale Science and Engineering for Agriculture and Food Systems. Roadmap Report of National Planning Workshop (Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service of the US Department of Agriculture, 2002); www.agronavigator.cz/userfiles/File/Agronavigator/Kvasnickova/USDA_nanotech.pdf
Cozzens, S., Cortes, R., Soumonni, O. & Woodson, T. Nanotechnology and the millennium development goals: water, energy, and agri-food. J. Nanopart. Res. 15, 2001 (2013).
Kah, M. & Hofmann, T. Nanopesticide research: current trends and future priorities. Environ. Int. 63, 224–235 (2014).
Achari, G. A. & Kowshik, M. Recent developments on nanotechnology in agriculture: plant mineral nutrition, health, and interactions with soil microflora. J. Agric. Food Chem. 66, 8647–8661 (2018).
Chhipa, H. Nanofertilizers and nanopesticides for agriculture. Environ. Chem. Lett. 15, 15–22 (2017).
Duhan, J. S. et al. Nanotechnology: the new perspective in precision agriculture. Biotechnol. Rep. 15, 11–23 (2017).
Feregrino-Perez, A. A., Magaña-López, E., Guzmán, C. & Esquivel, K. A general overview of the benefits and possible negative effects of the nanotechnology in horticulture. Sci. Hortic. 238, 126–137 (2018).
Hong, J., Peralta-Videa, J. R. & Gardea-Torresdey, J. L. in Sustainable Nanotechnology and the Environment: Advances and Achievements, 73–90 (ACS Symposium Series 1124, 2013).
Fraceto, L. F. et al. Nanotechnology in agriculture: which innovation potential does it have? Front. Environ. Sci. 4, https://doi.org/10.3389/fenvs.2016.00020 (2016).
Huang, S., Wang, L., Liu, L., Hou, Y. & Li, L. Nanotechnology in agriculture, livestock, and aquaculture in China. A review. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 35, 369–400 (2015).
Iavicoli, I., Leso, V., Beezhold, D. H. & Shvedova, A. A. Nanotechnology in agriculture: opportunities, toxicological implications, and occupational risks. Toxicol. Appl. Pharmacol. 329, 96–111 (2017).
Jain, A., Ranjan, S., Dasgupta, N. & Ramalingam, C. Nanomaterials in food and agriculture: an overview on their safety concerns and regulatory issues. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr. 58, 297–317 (2018).
Kah, M. Nanopesticides and nanofertilizers: emerging contaminants or opportunities for risk mitigation? Front. Chem. 3, 64 (2015).
Liu, R. & Lal, R. Potentials of engineered nanoparticles as fertilizers for increasing agronomic productions. Sci. Total Environ. 514, 131–139 (2015).
Mukherjee, A. et al. Carbon nanomaterials in agriculture: a critical review. Front. Plant Sci. 7, 172 (2016).
Mukhopadhyay, S. S. Nanotechnology in agriculture: prospects and constraints. Nanotechnol. Sci. Appl. 7, 63–71 (2014).
Parisi, C., Vigani, M. & Rodríguez-Cerezo, E. Agricultural nanotechnologies: what are the current possibilities? Nano Today 10, 124–127 (2015).
Prasad, R., Bhattacharyya, A. & Nguyen, Q. D. Nanotechnology in sustainable agriculture: recent developments, challenges, and perspectives. Front. Microbiol. 8, 1014 (2017).
Servin, A. D. & White, J. C. Nanotechnology in agriculture: next steps for understanding engineered nanoparticle exposure and risk. NanoImpact 1, 9–12 (2016).
Servin, A. et al. A review of the use of engineered nanomaterials to suppress plant disease and enhance crop yield. J. Nanopart. Res. 17, 92 (2015).
Ma, C., White, J. C., Zhao, J., Zhao, Q. & Xing, B. Uptake of engineered nanoparticles by food crops: characterization, mechanisms, and implications. Annu. Rev. Food Sci. Technol. 9, 129–153 (2018).
Kah, M., Beulke, S., Tiede, K. & Hofmann, T. Nanopesticides: state of knowledge, environmental fate, and exposure modeling. Crit. Rev. Environ. Sci. Technol. 43, 1823–1867 (2013).
FAOSTAT (FAO, 2018); www.fao.org/faostat/en/#home
Lobell, D. B., Cassman, K. G. & Field, C. B. Crop yield gaps: their importance, magnitudes, and causes. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 34, 179–204 (2009).
Wessells, K. R. & Brown, K. H. Estimating the global prevalence of zinc deficiency: results based on zinc availability in national food supplies and the prevalence of stunting. PLoS One 7, e50568 (2012).
Cassman, K. G., Dobermann, A., Walters, D. T. & Yang, H. Meeting cereal demand while protecting natural resources and improving environmental quality. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 28, 315–358 (2003).
Jägermeyr, J. et al. Water savings potentials of irrigation systems: global simulation of processes and linkages. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 19, 3073–3091 (2015).
Urso, J. H. & Gilbertson, L. M. Atom conversion efficiency: a new sustainability metric applied to nitrogen and phosphorus use in agriculture. ACS Sustain. Chem. Eng. 6, 4453–4463 (2018).
World Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030: The 2012 Edition (FAO, 2012); www.fao.org/docrep/016/ap106e/ap106e.pdf
Tilman, D., Cassman, K. G., Matson, P. A., Naylor, R. & Polasky, S. Agricultural sustainability and intensive production practices. Nature 418, 671–677 (2002).
Fernández, V. & Eichert, T. Uptake of hydrophilic solutes through plant leaves: current state of knowledge and perspectives of foliar fertilization. Crit. Rev. Plant Sci. 28, 36–68 (2009).
Pimentel, D. Environmental and economic costs of the application of pesticides primarily in the United States. Environ. Dev. Sustain. 7, 229–252 (2005).
Aktar, M. W., Sengupta, D. & Chowdhury, A. Impact of pesticides use in agriculture: their benefits and hazards. Interdiscip. Toxicol. 2, 1–12 (2009).
Ruyters, S., Salaets, P., Oorts, K. & Smolders, E. Copper toxicity in soils under established vineyards in Europe: a survey. Sci. Total Environ. 443, 470–477 (2013).
Schwab, F. et al. Barriers, pathways and processes for uptake, translocation and accumulation of nanomaterials in plants—critical review. Nanotoxicology 10, 257–278 (2015).
Al-Kodmany, K. The vertical farm: a review of developments and implications for the vertical city. Buildings 8, 24 (2018).
Carrington, D. EU agrees total ban on bee-harming pesticides.The Guardian (27 April 2018); www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/27/eu-agrees-total-ban-on-bee-harming-pesticides
Xu, J. B. China’s new pesticide regulations become effective. B&C Pesticide Law & Policy Blog (2017); http://pesticideblog.lawbc.com/entry/chinas-new-pesticide-regulations-become-effective
Phillips, D. ‘Toxic garbage will be sold here’: outcry as Brazil moves to loosen pesticide laws. The Guardian (26 June 2018); www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/26/toxic-garbage-will-be-sold-here-outcry-as-brazil-moves-to-loosen-pesticide-laws
Monreal, C. M., DeRosa, M., Mallubhotla, S. C., Bindraban, P. S. & Dimkpa, C. Nanotechnologies for increasing the crop use efficiency of fertilizer-micronutrients. Biol. Fertil. Soils 52, 423–437 (2016).
Bhattacharyya, A., Duraisamy, P., Govindarajan, M., Buhroo, A. A. & Prasad, R. in Advances and Applications Through Fungal Nanobiotechnology (ed. Prasad, R.) 307–319 (Springer, 2016).
Mitter, N. et al. Clay nanosheets for topical delivery of RNAi for sustained protection against plant viruses. Nat. Plants 3, 16207 (2017).
Young, M. et al. Multimodal generally recognized as safe ZnO/nanocopper composite: a novel antimicrobial material for the management of citrus phytopathogens. J. Agric. Food Chem. 66, 6604–6608 (2018).
Elmer, W. et al. Effect of metalloid and metal oxide nanoparticles on fusarium wilt of watermelon. Plant Dis. 102, 1394–1401 (2018).
Borgatta, J. et al. Copper based nanomaterials suppress root fungal disease in watermelon (Citrullus lanatus): role of particle morphology, composition and dissolution behavior. ACS Sustain. Chem. Eng. https://doi.org/10.1021/acssuschemeng.8b03379 (2018).
Wang, Z. et al. Xylem- and phloem-based transport of CuO nanoparticles in maize (Zea mays L.). Environ. Sci. Technol. 46, 4434–4441 (2012).
de la Torre-Roche, R. et al. Impact of Ag nanoparticle exposure on p,p′-DDE bioaccumulation by Cucurbita pepo (Zucchini) and Glycine max (Soybean). Environ. Sci. Technol. 47, 718–725 (2013).
Dimkpa, C. O., White, J. C., Elmer, W. H. & Gardea-Torresdey, J. Nanoparticle and ionic Zn promote nutrient loading of sorghum grain under low NPK fertilization. J. Agric. Food Chem. 65, 8552–8559 (2017).
Dasgupta, N., Ranjan, S. & Ramalingam, C. Applications of nanotechnology in agriculture and water quality management. Environ. Chem. Lett. 15, 591–605 (2017).
Kashyap, P. L. et al. in Microbes for Climate Resilient Agriculture, 279–344 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2017).
Cui, Y., Wei, Q., Park, H. & Lieber, C. M. Nanowire nanosensors for highly sensitive and selective detection of biological and chemical species. Science 293, 1289–1292 (2001).
Yao, K. S. et al. Fluorescence silica nanoprobe as a biomarker for rapid detection of plant pathogens. Adv. Mater. Res. 79–82, 513–516 (2009).
Lin, H.-Y., Huang, C.-H., Lu, S.-H., Kuo, I.-T. & Chau, L.-K. Direct detection of orchid viruses using nanorod-based fiber optic particle plasmon resonance immunosensor. Biosens. Bioelectron. 51, 371–378 (2014).
Kearns, H., Goodacre, R., Jamieson, L. E., Graham, D. & Faulds, K. SERS detection of multiple antimicrobial-resistant pathogens using nanosensors. Anal. Chem. 89, 12666–12673 (2017).
Mastronardi, E., Monreal, C. & DeRosa, M. C. Personalized medicine for crops? Opportunities for the application of molecular recognition in agriculture. J. Agric. Food Chem. 66, 6457–6461 (2018).
Koman, V. B. et al. Persistent drought monitoring using a microfluidic-printed electro-mechanical sensor of stomata in planta. Lab. Chip 17, 4015–4024 (2017).
Rossi, L., Zhang, W. & Ma, X. Cerium oxide nanoparticles alter the salt stress tolerance of Brassica napus L. by modifying the formation of root apoplastic barriers. Environ. Pollut. 229, 132–138 (2017).
Wu, H., Tito, N. & Giraldo, J. P. Anionic cerium oxide nanoparticles protect plant photosynthesis from abiotic stress by scavenging reactive oxygen species. ACS Nano 11, 11283–11297 (2017).
Djanaguiraman, M., Belliraj, N., Bossmann, S. H. & Prasad, P. V. V. High-temperature stress alleviation by selenium nanoparticle treatment in grain sorghum. ACS Omega 3, 2479–2491 (2018).
Lahiani, M. H., Nima, Z. A., Villagarcia, H., Biris, A. S. & Khodakovskaya, M. V. Assessment of effects of the long-term exposure of agricultural crops to carbon nanotubes. J. Agric. Food Chem. 66, 6654–6662 (2018).
Pandey, K. et al. Effects of carbon-based nanomaterials on seed germination, biomass accumulation and salt stress response of bioenergy crops. PLoS One 13, e0202274 (2018).
McGehee, D. L., Lahiani, M. H., Irin, F., Green, M. J. & Khodakovskaya, M. V. Multiwalled carbon nanotubes dramatically affect the fruit metabolome of exposed tomato plants. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 9, 32430–32435 (2017).
Deng, R. et al. Nanoparticle interactions with co-existing contaminants: joint toxicity, bioaccumulation and risk. Nanotoxicology 11, 591–612 (2017).
Asadishad, B. et al. Amendment of agricultural soil with metal nanoparticles: effects on soil enzyme activity and microbial community composition. Environ. Sci. Technol. 52, 1908–1918 (2018).
Das, P. et al. Novel synthesis of an iron oxalate capped iron oxide nanomaterial: a unique soil conditioner and slow release eco-friendly source of iron sustenance in plants. RSC Adv. 6, 103012–103025 (2016).
El-Ramady, H. et al. Selenium and nano-selenium in plant nutrition. Environ. Chem. Lett. 14, 123–147 (2016).
Subbaiah, L. V. et al. Novel effects of nanoparticulate delivery of zinc on growth, productivity, and zinc biofortification in maize (Zea mays L.). J. Agric. Food Chem. 64, 3778–3788 (2016).
Golubkina, N. A. et al. Comparative evaluation of spinach biofortification with selenium nanoparticles and ionic forms of the element. Nanotechnol. Russ. 12, 569–576 (2017).
Sundaria, N. et al. Seed priming with iron oxide nanoparticles triggers iron acquisition and biofortification in wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) grains. J. Plant Growth Regul. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00344-018-9818-7 (2018).
Du, W. et al. Elevated CO2 levels modify TiO2 nanoparticle effects on rice and soil microbial communities. Sci. Total Environ. 578, 408–416 (2017).
Zhu, C. et al. Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels this century will alter the protein, micronutrients, and vitamin content of rice grains with potential health consequences for the poorest rice-dependent countries. Sci. Adv. 4, eaaq1012 (2018).
Kabiri, S. et al. Graphene oxide: a new carrier for slow release of plant micronutrients. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 9, 43325–43335 (2017).
Chariou, P. L. & Steinmetz, N. F. Delivery of pesticides to plant parasitic nematodes using tobacco mild green mosaic virus as a nanocarrier. ACS Nano 11, 4719–4730 (2017).
Elmer, W. & White, J. C. The future of nanotechnology in plant pathology. Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 56, 111–133 (2018).
Hao, Y. et al. Engineered nanomaterials suppress turnip mosaic virus infection in tobacco (Nicotiana benthamiana). Environ. Sci. Nano 5, 1685–1693 (2018).
Guidelines on Efficacy Evaluation for the Registration of Plant Protection Products (FAO, 2006).
Efficacy Experimental Design and Analysis (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, 2013); https://apvma.gov.au/node/347
Abdel-Aziz, H. M. M., Hasaneen, M. N. A. & Omer, A. M. Nano chitosan-NPK fertilizer enhances the growth and productivity of wheat plants grown in sandy soil. Span. J. Agric. Res. 14, 0902 (2016).
Delfani, M., Firouzabadi, M. B., Farrokhi, N. & Makarian, H. Some physiological responses of black-eyed pea to iron and magnesium nanofertilizers. Commun. Soil Sci. Plant Anal. 45, 530–540 (2014).
Elmer, W. H. & White, J. C. The use of metallic oxide nanoparticles to enhance growth of tomatoes and eggplants in disease infested soil or soilless medium. Environ. Sci. Nano 3, 1072–1079 (2016).
Prasad, T. N. V. K. V. et al. Effect of nanoscale zinc oxide particles on the germination, growth and yield of peanut. J. Plant Nutr. 35, 905–927 (2012).
Kah, M., Kookana, R. S., Gogos, A. & Bucheli, T. D. A critical evaluation of nanopesticides and nanofertilizers against their conventional analogues. Nat. Nanotechnol. 13, 677–684 (2018).
Grow More Produce. https://nualgiagriculture.com/produce/
Berg, P. S. & Pullen, M. D. Nano particulate delivery system. US patent US20160174546A1 (2016).
Li, F., Pham, H. H. & Anderson, D. J. Methods to produce polymer nanoparticles and formulations of active ingredients. US patent US8741808B2 (2014).
Memarizadeh, N., Adeli, M. & Ghadamyari, M. Photodegradable, biocompatible and efficient nano-encapsulated formulation. US patent US20160000071A1 (2016).
Deb, N. Plant nutrient coated nanoparticles and methods for their preparation and use. US patent US9359265B2 (2016).
Lombi, E., Donner, E., Dusinska, M. & Wickson, F. A One Health approach to managing the applications and implications of nanotechnologies in agriculture. Nat. Nanotechnol. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41565-019-0460-8 (2019).
Kookana, R. S. et al. Nanopesticides: guiding principles for regulatory evaluation of environmental risks. J. Agric. Food Chem. 62, 4227–4240 (2014).
Walker, G. W. et al. Ecological risk assessment of nano-enabled pesticides: a perspective on problem formulation. J. Agric. Food Chem. 66, 6480–6486 (2018).
Hansen, S. F., Sørensen, S. N., Skjolding, L. M., Hartmann, N. B. & Baun, A. Revising REACH guidance on information requirements and chemical safety assessment for engineered nanomaterials for aquatic ecotoxicity endpoints: recommendations from the EnvNano project. Environ. Sci. Eur. 29, 14 (2017).
Kah, M., Weniger, A.-K. & Hofmann, T. Impacts of (nano)formulations on the fate of an insecticide in soil and consequences for environmental exposure assessment. Environ. Sci. Technol. 50, 10960–10967 (2016).
Hardy, A. et al. Guidance on risk assessment of the application of nanoscience and nanotechnologies in the food and feed chain. Part 1, Human and animal health. EFSA J. 16, e05327 (2018).
Gardea-Torresdey, J. L., Rico, C. M. & White, J. C. Trophic transfer, transformation, and impact of engineered nanomaterials in terrestrial environments. Environ. Sci. Technol. 48, 2526–2540 (2014).
Revel, M., Chatel, A. & Mouneyrac, C. Omics tools: new challenges in aquatic nanotoxicology? Aquat. Toxicol. 193, 72–85 (2017).
Bergin, I. L. & Witzmann, F. A. Nanoparticle toxicity by the gastrointestinal route: evidence and knowledge gaps. Int. J. Biomed. Nanosci. Nanotechnol. 3, https://doi.org/10.1504/IJBNN.2013.054515 (2013).
Stauber, R. H. et al. Small meets smaller: effects of nanomaterials on microbial biology, pathology, and ecology. ACS Nano 12, 6351–6359 (2018).
Pourzahedi, L. et al. Life cycle considerations of nano-enabled agrochemicals: are today’s tools up to the task? Environ. Sci. Nano 5, 1057–1069 (2018).
Beumer, K. Nat. Nanotechnol. On the elusive nature of the public. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41565-019-0468-0 (2019).
Scott, N. R., Chen, H. & Schoen, R. in Handbook of Science and Technology Convergence (eds. Bainbridge, W. S. & Roco, M. C.) 651–668 (Springer, 2016).
Siebert, S. et al. A global data set of the extent of irrigated land from 1900 to 2005. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 19, 1521–1545 (2015).
Siebert, S. & Döll, P. Quantifying blue and green virtual water contents in global crop production as well as potential production losses without irrigation. J. Hydrol. 384, 198–217 (2010).
Pesticides Industry Sales and Usage (US-EPA, 2017); www.epa.gov/pesticides/pesticides-industry-sales-and-usage-2008-2012-market-estimates
Maxmen, A. Crop pests: under attack. Nature 501, S15–S17 (2013).
Savary, S., Ficke, A., Aubertot, J.-N. & Hollier, C. Crop losses due to diseases and their implications for global food production losses and food security. Food Secur. 4, 519–537 (2012).
M.K. was partially supported by the Czech Science Foundation (GAČR 18-19324S). N.T. was supported by the Canada Research Chairs program. J.C.W. acknowledges support from USDA-NIFA-AFRI 2016-67021-24985. Synthesis of Cu-based nanoparticles was supported by US National Science Foundation Centers for Chemical Innovation Program CHE-1503408, the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology. The authors thank Vive Crop Protection Inc. for sharing and discussing data, and S. Chahal for his support with graphic preparation.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Journal peer review information: Nature Nanotechnology thanks Hongda Chen and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Kah, M., Tufenkji, N. & White, J.C. Nano-enabled strategies to enhance crop nutrition and protection. Nat. Nanotechnol. 14, 532–540 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41565-019-0439-5
Exogenous application of chemicals for protecting plants against ambient ozone pollution: What should come next?
Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health (2021)
Journal of Hazardous Materials (2021)
Emerging investigator series: molecular mechanisms of plant salinity stress tolerance improvement by seed priming with cerium oxide nanoparticles
Environmental Science: Nano (2020)
Chitosan-based delivery systems for plants: A brief overview of recent advances and future directions
International Journal of Biological Macromolecules (2020)
Potential use of nanotechnology in sustainable and ‘smart’ agriculture: advancements made in the last decade
Plant Biotechnology Reports (2020)