The TERI-Deakin Nanobiotechnology Centre (TDNBC) and the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, are looking to advance research and product development in food and agriculture nanotechnology.
The speakers at the third edition of the international conference on Nanobiotechnology for Agriculture: Translational Research for Future Food and Agriculture Technologies - a two-day meet which is being held in New Delhi as a part of Global Bio-India Summit 2019 - discussed the innovative strategies for enhancement of crop nutrition, nanotechnology in food preservation and shelf life enhancement, and translational research in food and agriculture.
Dr Suchita Ninawe, advisor, Department of Biotechnology, stated that the research in nanobiotechnology should lead to products and technologies. Nanotechnology for agricultural guidelines have been finalised with the help of TERI and other partners, and will be released soon. These guidelines will provide a clearer path on how to move ahead with products.
The topic for the opening session of the conference was innovative strategies for enhancement of crop nutrition. It was delivered by Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor Dinesh Mohan, and commenced with a presentation on stubble burning titled Biochar - A Sustainable Solution to Stubble Burning, Soil Fertility, Food Security, and Climate Change Mitigation.
Biochar is charred organic matter, produced by pyrolysis of biomass. The thermal decomposition of organic feedstock is done generally at slow heating rates under no or limited oxygen conditions as opposed to open burning in fields, as is currently done. The fine-grained charcoal gained as a result of this process is called biochar.
Mohan said, “Biochar, with its porous nature, can be used to clean water, improve soil fertility, and sequester carbon. In October 2018, the IPCC recognised biochar as a carbon sequestration method.”
“The deliberations during this conference will help researchers and scientists across various fields with the knowledge to ease them into translational research and accelerated product development,” said Alok Adholeya, senior director, sustainable agriculture, TERI; director, TDNBC, and the session chair.
TDNBC has developed nano-fertiliser products and technologies that have the potential to emerge as significant disruptive technologies, thereby giving Indian agri produce a boost.
Further, nanonutrients are required to be applied in few grams per acre as compared to bulk fertilisers that are required in kg per acre. TERI’s nano-phosphorus product can reduce the application dose of bulk fertiliser by 50-70 per cent, while zinc and iron nanofertilisers can completely replace the bulk form.
The centre has developed the technology to biologically produce nano zinc, iron, and phosphorus products. The iron and zinc products are produced by recovering these metals from industrial waste through biological processes and are hence low in toxicity.
In 2017, TDNBC was inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart, Malcom Turnbull, at TERI’s Gwal Pahadi campus in Gurugram, Haryana.
It was established in collaboration with Deakin University, Australia, as a pioneer research centre in nanobiotechnology in India. It is devoted to developing innovative nanobiotechnology based solutions to address current challenges in agriculture and environment.
“The nano-fertiliser products and technologies have been field tested with positive results such as enhanced seed germination and emergence, biomass growth, flowering, fruit setting, yield and fortification of nutritional quality of produce,” said Adholeya.
“Another notable area where TERI has achieved successful results is mycorrhizal research and bioremediation. Mycorrhiza is a biofertiliser that has the potential to reduce the use of chemical fertilisers globally by nearly 50 per cent,” he added.
“It is a fungal system that forms a symbiotic relationship with plant roots and helps them tap nutrients from soil that would otherwise have been inaccessible to them,” Adholeya said.
TERI has the world’s biggest facility for producing mycorrhizae. It has successfully demonstrated the impact of this product across India (nearly 40,000-50,000 hectares) and parts of North America and Europe. The production technology of mycorrhiza is patented and the product is produced in accredited laboratories.
“This technology has also been used in greening industrial wastelands ranging from Mithapur in Gujarat and Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh, to Dukhan in Qatar. It has worked in remediating conditions such as fly ash ponds, chloralkali sludge dump, phosphogypsum sediments and even hypersaline desert soil,” stated Adholeya.