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Scientists found a method to grow plants with silk cocoon even in poor soil

Nov 28, 2019, 8:06 am

Soil salinization is a major problem because it is associated with irrigation. It can be really harmful to the crops because it builds up the level of salt in the soil along with the water. It becomes really hard to grow anything in such poor soil. Soil could be in bad condition for various reasons. Poor soil could have poor drainage, it could have an insufficient or excessive supply of nutrients, it even can happen because of an insufficient population of positive microorganisms and helpful creatures.

However, a team of engineers from MIT has a more practical solution to make your soil good enough to grow plants with a seed coat that gives the plant all the necessary nutrients. A report shows their effort that could ease up your life.

Normally people grow plants which can better cope up with the different conditions. Instead of doing that, the team went on developing a silk coating that could help the plants having a proper condition to grow up with all the nutrients.

Apparently, the coating contains silk threads treated with bacteria and trehalose sugar to produce nitrogen fertilizer. But, it was never easy to get such amazing results as they could not hold up the bacteria within the soil. Dr. Benedetto Marelli, co-author of the research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US said:

“The moment you extract them from the soil and you dry them, they die.”

He added that the farmers even have to dip and then swiftly sow the seeds to see benefits – however, it is both inefficient and cannot be done everywhere.

Thankfully, the team has settled down the problem and has developed a more improved coating to keep helpful bacteria in suspended animation until they reach the soil. This coating was made using silk and trehalose – a carbohydrate from the group of disaccharides.

They carried on their research with legumes with which we can find rhizobacteria, a certain kind of microbes. This bacteria helps to grow the roots of the plant and receives sugars from it while turning nitrogen from the air into nutrients that the plant can use.

With this data, they had proceeded further with their research and preserved the bacteria using the coating. According to Marelli, silk acts as a way to “attach the bacteria to the seed while it also provides robustness to the coating and a controlled release of the bacteria – since it is soluble in water”. The sugar agent too, replaces water around the bacteria, helping them to survive dehydration, and could also provide an initial energy source to the microbes when in the soil, helping to “resuscitate” them.

They carried a test on beans with 12 different conditions and noticed that the non-salty soil with 88% of coated seeds sprouted compared with 62% of non-coated seeds, while in the salty soil the figures were 71% for the coated seeds and 45% for the non-coated seeds.

The results were positive too. After two weeks in the salty soil, the coated seeds were found to have significantly longer stems and roots with more branches than those from seeds without the coating. Most importantly, only seedlings from coated seeds had developed root nodules.

“[The coating] increases the amount of seeds that germinate, it makes them germinate quicker, and it provides sprouts that are in better health”. – Marelli

However, the technology also has disadvantages as it cannot be used on the non-leguminous crops. The team is already looking for a solution to how rhizobacteria could be used for the other crops too.

Prof Gerhard Leubner from the Royal Holloway University of London thinks that this technology may seem problematic as certain chemicals including fungicides and insecticides have been banned in the EU. He added that, since silk threads or cocoons are something biodegradable and natural, they can certainly be used for other purposes also.

Even with certain disadvantages, this method is something we should look forward to. This could help us grow plants in a larger number in unsuitable environments. Looking at how the environment is changing rapidly and affecting our natural elements, we certainly need such technology in the future.

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