One of the biggest issues faced in modern times is the growing food crisis. The world population continues to expand, but everyone is not getting equal access to food. Some scientists hope to change this by creating new methods that will make it easier to grow crops. A particularly promising innovation may be the BioClay developed by a team of Australian researchers. This discovery could potentially protect plants without damaging the ecosystem with pesticides.
BioClay May Provide Answer to Crop Protection Problem
A major issue with producing enough crops to feed everyone is that bugs and illnesses tend to decimate crops, and each year, the agricultural industry loses about $50 billion due to viruses. Currently, the most popular solution is just to douse plants in pesticides, but this can lead to chemical buildups in the soil that cause even more issues for farmers. Professor Neena Mitter and Professor Zhi Ping Xu from the University of Queensland may have found a more effective solution.
This is not a pesticide that works by killing pests or destroying plant viruses before they can spread. Instead, this useful substance works by making the actual plants stronger and more resistant. It functions similar to a vaccination in humans.
The BioClay looks just like a normal pile of dirt, but it contains special double stranded RNA particles. When sprayed onto a plant, this results in an RNA silencing effect that prevents the plant from using certain genes in its DNA. The BioClay does not actually harm or alter the plant’s genome, it just changes the way the plant reacts to its own genome.
Essentially, the BioClay makes the plant think that it has been exposed to a certain pest or plant disease. This triggers a protective response, and the plant starts producing certain natural substances to defend themselves against diseases and harmful organisms. It can be used just by spraying a dust of BioClay over the plant.
RNA silencing mechanisms have long been known to provide some protection for crops, but the main issue was that previous RNA pesticide technology only worked for about seven days. The BioClay solution developed by Mitter and Xu found a way to slowly release the double stranded RNA to plants over time. The time release mechanism can be adjusted to various plant growth cycles, so it ensures that plants get protection throughout their entire lifespan.
The BioClay substance is designed specifically for plants, so it does not affect humans and other animals like DDT and other pesticides. After being used, BioClay can degrade into the earth until it is no longer detectable. This ensures that the environment is not permanently changed or damaged due to the use of BioClay.
BioClay may be a viable method for both small and big farms to protect their crops without pesticide use. Mitter says,
The cleaner approach will value-add to the food and agri-business industry, contributing to global food security and to a cleaner, greener image of Queensland.
Professor Xu hopes that BioClay will eventually move beyond organic farms in Queensland, and he states, “the applications will expand into a much wider field of primary agricultural production.
The Future of BioClay
Though the researchers have shown that BioClay can be very effective, they are still working to refine their product. Once it is perfected, the next step will be convincing agricultural businesses to use BioClay. At first, it will most likely just be used by a few niche farms who want to avoid chemical pesticides. If the researchers can demonstrate that it is safe, effective, and cheaper than traditional methods, more farmers will be won over.
Image source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/green-plant-sprout-113335/