What do chemical weapons, sun screen, tennis balls and chewable dog wormers have in common?
They’re all examples of products developed with the use of nanotechnology – the manipulation of incredibly small particles (less than 100 nanometres) with the aim of improving the properties of objects – from textiles to computers and pharmaceutical drugs.
Revered as one of the most exciting branches of science today, Nanotechnology has been used across a range of applications – making tennis balls last longer, increasing the stickiness of sticky tape and targeting drug delivery to certain parts of the human body.
More recent attention has been examining the potential that nanotechnology could offer agriculture as the industry seeks to continue productivity gains while also becoming more sustainable. The innate precision of nanotechnology provides agriculture with something it desperately needs – the ability to do more with less.
Canadian start up Vive Crop Protection developed Allosperse – a patented polymer “shuttle” to carry active ingredients to target sites. Vive has combined Allosphere with widely-used pesticides such as azoxystrobin and abamectin, offering better efficacy through targeted applications as well as a reduction in the amount of chemical required.
Another benefit to this use of nanotechnology is its ability to be combined with other chemicals at the time of application. Launched in 2016, Vive’s Azteroid is a fungicide used to control a range of diseases in lucerne, corn, cotton, beans, potatoes, soybeans and sugarbeet, and can be deployed with liquid fertiliser without any loss of performance to either input.
Given nanotechnology’s existing use in medical developments, it has a natural fit for the animal health sector. The use of anti-microbial agents is a common use of nanotechnology in human-grade medical products and can be easily transferred to animal health scenarios.
As well as treating wounds before they become infected, nanotechnology could easily offer alternatives to antibiotics, reducing the rates of resistance. Targeted drug delivery has the potential to further improve drug efficacy rates, while experts have also cited nanotechnology for its ability in diagnosis, growth and production gains – all good news for livestock owners.
The potential of nanotechnology in agriculture is even more exciting because it doesn’t require any new equipment to deploy. In-crop products can be used with existing machinery and their ability to be applied with other chemicals makes them a highly efficient option considering the labour, diesel and water costs involved.
Other applications include the development of new food packaging, designed to protect food items from physical damage and UV exposure. Smart packaging offers the potential to extend the shelf life of food while protecting its nutritive value.
Initial consumer feedback has been hesitant about the use of nanoparticles at the retail end of the value chain, requiring the industry to think strategically about ways to manage consumer attitudes towards such technology.