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Technology readiness and overcoming barriers to sustainably implement nanotechnology-enabled plant agriculture


Nanotechnology offers potential solutions for sustainable agriculture, including increasing nutrient utilization efficiency, improving the efficacy of pest management, mitigating the impacts of climate change, and reducing adverse environmental impacts of agricultural food production. Many promising nanotechnologies have been proposed and evaluated at different scales, but several barriers to implementation must be addressed for technology to be adopted, including efficient delivery at field scale, regulatory and safety concerns, and consumer acceptance. Here we explore these barriers, and rank technology readiness and potential impacts of a wide range of agricultural applications of nanotechnology. We propose pathways to overcome these barriers and develop effective, safe and acceptable nanotechnologies for agriculture.

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Fig. 1: Agricultural production will need to increase to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

A. Desaulniers, Orcéine, Montreal, Canada

Fig. 2: Potential application of nanotechnology in plant agriculture.

A. Desaulniers, Orcéine, Montreal, Canada

Fig. 3: Strategies to overcome major barriers to nanotechnology deployment in agriculture.

A. Desaulniers, Orcéine, Montreal, Canada

Fig. 4: TRL for proposed applications or approaches for nano-enabled technologies that can benefit agriculture.

A. Desaulniers, Orcéine, Montreal, Canada


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This Review Article resulted from an expert workshop held in July 2019, hosted and supported by the Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design, McGill University. N.T. and J.R.D. acknowledge support from the Canada Research Chairs program. J.P.G., J.A.P. and J.C.W. acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation under the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology (CHE-1503408). T.H. and J.A.P. acknowledge support from the TISED Scholar-In-Residence program. J.P.G. and G.V.L. acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation (CBET-1911820). J.M.U. acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation (CBET-1712323). K.J.W. acknowledges the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and Environment and Climate Change Canada. D.B. acknowledges support from the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association and Biosimilars, Canada. We acknowledge the input from S. R. Leslie and M. Kurylowicz during the workshop, and A. Kundu in preparing the reference list.

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T.H., G.V.L., S.G. and N.T. planned and organized the workshop. All authors, except J.P.G., L.M.G. and J.M.U. participated in the workshop. T.H. and G.V.L. conceived of and led the manuscript writing and editing. The sections of this manuscript are based on the written input from all authors, which were the basis of the final manuscript. All authors carefully revised the manuscript and approved the submission.

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Correspondence to Thilo Hofmann or Gregory Victor Lowry.

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W.L. is an employee of Vive Crop Protection Inc., a company that produces products for agricultural markets. All other authors declare no competing interests.

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Hofmann, T., Lowry, G.V., Ghoshal, S. et al. Technology readiness and overcoming barriers to sustainably implement nanotechnology-enabled plant agriculture. Nat Food 1, 416–425 (2020).

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