New smart biodegradable microgels to boost sustainable agriculture

Mandi, Apr 18 (IANS): A team of researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mandi has developed natural polymer-based multifunctional smart microgels that will aid in promoting sustainable agriculture in India.

The microgels work by releasing nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) fertilisers over an extended period. This not only helps in enhancing crop nutrition but can also minimise environmental impact.

“We have fabricated biopolymer-based microgels for slow release of N and P fertilisers. They are cost-effective, biocompatible and can undergo degradation in soil, thus releasing the loaded fertilisers for a longer period of time,” Dr Garima Agrawal, Assistant Professor, School of Chemical Sciences, IIT Mandi, told IANS.

Biodegradable microgels will play a crucial role in food security, a growing area of concern as global populations surge towards an estimated 10 billion by 2050.

Traditional N and P fertilisers lack efficiency and have low absorption rates -- 30 to 50 per cent and 10 to 25 per cent, respectively.

Further, while fertilisers are essential for providing nutrients to plants and improving crop yields, their effectiveness is often compromised by factors, such as gaseous volatilisation and leaching.

These are not only expensive but also pose a risk of groundwater and soil contamination, as well as human health hazards.

“The microgel formulation is eco-friendly and biodegradable, as it is made with natural polymers. It can be applied by mixing it into the soil or by spraying it on plant leaves. Recent studies with maize plants have shown that our formulation greatly improves maize seed germination and overall plant growth compared to pure urea fertiliser. This sustained release of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers helps crops thrive while cutting down on fertiliser use,” Dr Agrawal said.



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Title: New smart biodegradable microgels to boost sustainable agriculture

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