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Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Nanotechnology Advances Soybean Input Delivery

Greenhouse trials show that lignin nanoparticles can effectively deliver fungicide seed treatment for soybeans. Source: Louisiana State University Ag Center

By Laura Temple

Lignin, found in some plant cell walls, is a byproduct of paper production.

A nanoparticle measures at the “nano”-scale, based on one-billionth of a meter.

Combined, lignin in a nanoparticle form has the potential to deliver inputs to soybeans, according to Dr. Cristina Sabliov, professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, Louisiana State University (LSU) and LSU AgCenter.

“We are using chemistry to our benefit,” she says. “We are engineering nanoparticles to carry agricultural inputs. While we are focusing on a soybean seed treatment fungicide first, the goal is to create a technology platform that can be adjusted to deliver other inputs and decrease the amounts used given improved efficacy in this system.”

She is leading a research project funded in part by soy checkoff dollars from the Louisiana Soybean and Grain Research and Promotion Board to develop a nanodelivery system for soybeans. Sabliov’s research has also received funding from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Delivery System Innovation

A nanoparticle is a spherical particle made of polymers, explains Sabliov. The polymers create a matrix that acts as a reservoir for an input at the molecular level. These particles can be created to control the placement and release timing of whatever is loaded into them. Nanoparticles also stick to and penetrate biological tissue better than other delivery systems.

Cristina Sabliov, with the Louisiana State University AgCenter, is leading research to develop a nanoparticle delivery system for soybeans using lignin, a byproduct of paper production. Photo: Louisiana State University Ag Center

“When we first looked at nanoparticles for ag input delivery, we considered biomedical polymers, but we soon realized we wanted to use a natural polymer,” Sabliov says. “Lignin, a waste product from paper production, has the right chemistry to form nanoparticles. We are getting lignin from nature and returning it to nature, adding value to it in the process.”

For this research project, Sabliov’s team chose to develop nanoparticles specifically to deliver azoxystrobin, a common fungicide, as a seed treatment. To test soybean germination and health, as well as disease control, seedlings were challenged with Rhizoctonia solani, a common early season disease, in greenhouse trials.

“We have seen no detrimental effect on soybean germination, root development or emergence from the lignin nanoparticles so far, while fungal protection has been equal to or better than current commercial treatments,” Sabliov reports.

Supporting Sustainability

The next step of the research during 2022 will include a field study to evaluate the same factors. At the same time, her team is collaborating with other experts to assess the environmental degradation of the nanoparticles. One of their priorities in engineering the particles was to make it “safe by design,” meaning the material would be biodegradable, without detrimental impacts on the environment.

“We don’t want to develop a solution that creates new problems,” she says. “We want to fully understand how the lignin polymer matrix breaks down in soil after the fungicide has been delivered.”

She believes lignin will prove to be an excellent biopolymer for use in agriculture. Should trials results continue to show the benefits and lack of risk observed so far, Sabliov expects to patent this technology and find a partner to make it available to farmers. The lignin platform should be able to be engineered to deliver other chemistries, making the concept part of continuous improvement in sustainability for soybeans and other crops.

This project was funded by the soybean checkoff. To find research related to this research highlight or to see other checkoff research projects, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.