New sun-absorbing nanoparticle spray boosts tomato plant yields by over 80 percent

tomatoes taste great again bigstock tomato woman 22028879
Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis have developed a method to boost the nutritional value of tomatoes using nanoparticles. Inspired by solar cell technology, the researchers used zinc oxide and titanium oxide to help the tomato absorb more sunlight and better utilize minerals in the ground.

Rather than genetically modifying the plant, the team is using the nanoparticles to boost the plant’s own natural systems for growth. “When a plant grows, it signals the soil that it needs nutrients,” Biswas says. “The nutrient it needs is not in a form that the plant can take right away, so it secretes enzymes, which react with the soil and trigger bacterial microbes to turn the nutrients into a form that the plant can use. We’re trying to aid this pathway by adding nanoparticles.”

Lead by Ramesh Raliya and Pratim Biswas of WUSTL’s School of Engineering & Applied Science, the researchers applied the titanium and zinc nanoparticles on and around the plants at a concentration that is lower than most commercial fertilizers and at a level that is considered safe by the USDA. In the experiment, the titanium oxide served to boost photosynthesis by increasing the chlorophyll content of leaves, while the zinc aided in the function of the enzymes in the plant. The most effective application was made to the leaves of the plant, where a fine spray of zinc oxide and titanium oxide greatly increased the uptake of nutrients by the plant.

These particles had a profound effect on the quality of the harvested fruit. The tomato plants treated with the nanoparticles produced 82 percent more fruit by weight than their untreated counterparts. The treated tomatoes also show a significant increase (up to 113 percent) in the level of lycopene, which is an antioxidant that gives the tomato its red color. Several studies suggest that antioxidant properties of lycopene may reduce cancer, but this claim has not been proven conclusively.

The WUSTL researchers plan to improve their tomato growth cocktail by adding all 17 elements that a plant needs to grow. They hope that this mixture will boost plant output even further, allowing farmers to produce more food without straining our already stressed water supply and energy resources. “In 100 years, there will be more cities and less farmland, but we will need more food,” said Raliya. “At the same time, water will be limited because of climate change. We need an efficient methodology and a controlled environment in which plants can grow.”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Smart Home

Thinking of buying an Instant Pot? Here's what you need to know

The Instant Pot is a powerful kitchen appliance that does everything from pressure cook to to slow cook to steam. Heck, you can even make yogurt in it. Here's all you need to know about the magic device.
Emerging Tech

In a first for humankind, China is growing plants on the moon

Having recently landed a probe on the far side of the moon, China announced that it managed to grow the first plant on the moon, too. Here's why that matters for deep space travel.
Smart Home

Put away that sponge and let us help you pick the best dishwasher for your buck

Tired of doing dishes by hand? Take a look at our picks of the four best dishwashers currently available and let a machine do the dirty work for you. They’ll do a much better job, anyway.
Emerging Tech

Yamaha’s new app lets you tune your motorcycle with a smartphone

It used to be that if you wanted to tune your motorcycle’s engine and tweak its performance, you needed specialized tools and even more specialized knowledge. Yamaha’s new Power Tuner app changes that.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs

Japan’s oddball Henn na Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff. The reason? Because these labor-saving machines turned out to be causing way more problems than they were solving.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.
Emerging Tech

Glowing space billboards could show ads in the night sky

Look up at the night sky in 2020 and you might see an ad for McDonald's floating among the stars. A Russian startup is working on a project that uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to create glowing ads.
Emerging Tech

New brainwave reader tells teachers if students are concentrating

Massachusetts-based startup BrainCo has developed brainwave-reading headbands which can reportedly help reveal if students are concentrating in class. Here's how they're being used.