The study also opens up possibilities for new methods to control the availability and release of nutrients contained within staple foods using minimal quantities of fertilizer.
In spite of very poor nutrient status in the soil, people are reluctant to use fertilizers because of their high cost and also because there is no assurance of enhanced production due to unpredictable climatic conditions.
Researchers from the University of Washington, think that fertilizer originating from rock phosphorus, could be combined with zinc oxide nanoparticles to improve the yield of food crops.
Lead researcher Dr Ramesh Raliya created zinc oxide nanoparticles from a fungus around the plant's root that helps the plant mobilize and take up the nutrients in the soil.
Raliya and his team spread these zinc nanoparticles on the leaves of the mung bean plant, resulting in an 11% increase in phosphorus uptake. Enzymes involved in this process also increased by 84% to 108%.
"When the enzyme activity increases, you don't need to apply the external phosphorus, because it's already in the soil, but not in an available form for the plant to uptake," said Raliya.
"When we apply these nanoparticles, it mobilizes the complex form of phosphorus to an available form.
Low usage of phosphorus by crops has been a major concern in crop production for more than three decades. Nanotechnology has been explored as a potential solution for food and agriculture, particularly for phosphorus utilisation.
There have only been two other studies that have investigated the effect of zinc oxide on phosphorus-mobilizing enzymes. One used clusterbeans and the other reported an increase in the phytoavailability of phosphorus in lettuce.
Source: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
Published online ahead of print, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b05224
“Enhancing the Mobilization of Native Phosphorus in the Mung Bean Rhizosphere Using ZnO Nanoparticles Synthesized by Soil Fungi.”
Authors: Ramesh Raliya, Jagadish Chandra Tarafdar, Pratim Biswas.