A new scientific innovation will make it possible for seeds to grow in soils that are otherwise infertile. Researchers from MIT have produced a new protective coating for seeds, which means that they can effectively grow anywhere.
Silk coating inspiration
A team of engineers worked diligently on the project after previous research found that silk coating can be used to extend the lifecycle of seeds used as food crops. The new coated seeds are treated with a form of bacteria, which naturally produces a nitrogen fertilizer.
This helps the germinating plans develop, with tests demonstrating that the innovative new seeds can grow in soils featuring an excessive amount of salt. Usually, plants are unable to grow in such salty soils, but the coated seeds developed by MIT scientists successfully passed this difficult prospect with flying colors.
Researchers now hope that the coated seeds can be delivered inexpensively in a commercial context, and that this could help create new areas of farming, particularly in regions suffering from poor agricultural yields.
Findings from the research will be published later this week in the PNAS journal, with the researchers named on the academic paper being graduate students Augustine Zvinavashe and Hui Sun, postdoc Eugen Lim, and professor of civil and environmental engineering Benedetto Marelli.
Biofertilization and nutrients
Marelli was indeed involved in the aforementioned research on silk coating, and had discovered during this experiment that certain biofertilizers can be used to increase the amount of nutrients in soil. This then naturally led to the attempt to produce seeds with protective coats featuring similar properties.
The fertilizers in question use microbes, as they are able to live symbiotically with certain plants, converting nitrogen from the air into a food for plants. This also helps to diminish the environmental impact of fertilization, as these critical chemical products are very expensive and demanding to produce in terms of energy requirements.
While bacteria occur naturally in soils around the world, they can be difficult to preserve when transferred outside of their natural environment. But silk offers the potential to preserve biological material, particularly when a sugar, known as trehalose, is added to the mix.
Trehalose is used by many organisms to survive when they find themselves in low-water conditions, and scientists from MIT found that adding the substance had a highly favorable impact on results.
Researchers now hope that similar coatings can be applied to seeds in real-world settings by either dipping or spray coating. This would then enable seeds to thrive in circumstances in which they would usually be unable to grow at all. Test planting is already planned for experimental fields in Morocco early next year.
The group of scientists is also working on developing new coating, which could potentially make them more resistant to drought, using coatings that absorb water from the soil. Researchers have already tested what could be a huge breakthrough in farming in controlled conditions, both at indoor labs within MIT and the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Ben Guerir, Morocco.