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Coated seeds to enable crop growth on marginal lands

Providing seeds with a coating that supplies nutrients could make it possible to grow crops in unproductive soils.

Providing seeds with a protective coating that also supplies essential nutrients to the germinating plant could make it possible to grow crops in otherwise unproductive soils, according to new research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

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Nitrogen fertiliser

Seeds were cotaed with silk that has been treated with a kind of bacteria that naturally produce a nitrogen fertiliser, to help the germinating plants develop.

Tests have shown that these seeds can grow successfully in soils that are too salty to allow untreated seeds to develop normally, reports Science Daily.

The researchers hope this process, which can be applied inexpensively and without the need for specialised equipment, could open up areas of land to farming that are now considered unsuitable for agriculture.

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Planted in identical pots of salty soil, untreated seeds (left) mostly fail to germinate, while the coated seeds (right) develop normally. - Photo: MIT
Planted in identical pots of salty soil, untreated seeds (left) mostly fail to germinate, while the coated seeds (right) develop normally. - Photo: MIT

Legume crops

The rhizobacteria normally provide fertiliser to legume crops such as common beans and chickpeas, and those have been the focus of the research so far, but it may be possible to adapt them to work with other kinds of crops as well, and that is part of the team’s ongoing research.

Drought resistance

As a next step, the researchers are working on developing new coatings that could not only protect seeds from saline soil, but also make them more resistant to drought, using coatings that absorb water from the soil.

Meanwhile, next year they will begin test plantings out in open experimental fields in Morocco; their previous plantings have been done indoors under more controlled conditions.

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