Introduction to Nanotechnology

SCIENCE-LED developments in agriculture in the country have made significant contributions in the last five decades to enable India in achieving self-sufficiency in food production, and also in ending an era of foodgrain’s imports.

In order to sustain food security and to feed burgeoning population of the country, which is likely to be 1.3 billion by 2050, continued research efforts for development of technologies are imperative. With the 50% of the World’s farming population living in India, the country is striving to raise foodgrain’s production by almost 40%, when yields of major food crops are plateauing, natural resource base is degrading, new biotypes of pests and pathogens are emerging and climate is changing.To mitigate these challenges and to accelerate agricultural production and productivity, processing, value addition, health foods, diagnostics and vaccines for livestock and plant protection, nanotechnology offers many opportunities.

The nanotechnology per se has varied applications in agriculture including development of simple gadgets for early detection of pests, diseases and nutrient deficiencies; for sustained release of pheromones and insecticide molecules for effective insect- pest management; fabrication and development of smart delivery systems to enhance input- use efficiencies of nano-agricultural inputs and development of smart food packaging to extend shelflife of fruits, vegetables, flowers, dairy and poultry products, besides quality control and value addition of agricultural products. In India, application of nanotechnology in agricultural research and development is rather new, and includes development of dipstick assay based on the nanogold particles for detection of potato viruses at the field level; nanogold- based lateral flow immuno-dipstick assay using teliospore antibodies for detection of Karnal bunt in wheat; and formulation of nano-fertilizers and slow release of nutrients from nanofertilizers. In contrast to products and technologies generated for medicine industry, processes for generation of products in agriculture and veterinary sectors need to overcome certain serious limitations relating to biological and ecological safety and also of paying capacity of farmers.

It is in this context that the Indian Council of Agricultural Research is launching a new initiative “Consortia Research Platform on Nanotechnology”in the XII Plan to facilitate researchers in all branches of agriculture, including basic sciences, to bring in novel ideas and experiments to prove Dr S. Ayyappan, Secretary (DARE) and Director General (ICAR) their hypotheses, leading to practical applications. The nanotechnology platform would accelerate research activities by providing appropriate state-of-art facilities at the selected research institutes, which will be accessible to all concerned for necessary capacity- building activity also. While ICAR has the expertise in developing standard operating practices on biotech products for conducting laboratory and field trials, efforts are, however, nascent in testing nano-particles of agricultural importance to build a consensus in the society on their commercial use and viability. Here is an invitation for experts from different fields to join hands in enhancing nanotechnology applications in agriculture.

We expect tangible outcomes from the “Nanotechnology Platform” proposed in the XII Plan in the form of (i) nanobased diagnostic kits/ sensors for detection of diseases and nutrient deficiencies at the field level, (ii) nano-biosensors for detection of food contaminants, (iii) nano-pheromones/ nanosensors and nano-bioformulations for control of pest and diseases, (iv) nano-agri-inputs and smart delivery systems with enhanced input-use efficiency, (v) growth monitoring sensors, (vi) nano-chips in identity preservation and tracking, (vii) nano-composite films for improving shelflife of agri-products (vegetables, fruits, processed foods), (viii) encapsulated functional ingredients for targeted delivery and, above all (ix) biosafety protocols.

We are confident that with the enhanced application of the new technology, qualitative and quantitative yield improvements can be manifested with significant reduction in post-harvest losses, and a win-win situation can be established for both producers and consumers.