Researchers at MIT have devised a simple and inexpensive way to make seeds more resistant to drought. By applying a specially engineered, two-layer coating to seeds, they were able to prevent the seeds from drying out during tests in Morocco.
The findings come at a time where farmers in western portions of Canada and the U.S. contend with crop-zapping, historic drought. Speaking with Reuters, Manitoba farmer Andy Keen says the recent heat wave that parked itself over the province earlier this month has devastated his canola crops, which may produce a harvest 80 per cent smaller than last year's.
Keen told the agency it's been 33 years since conditions he's seen conditions this dry on his farm.
EASY TO PRODUCE
And there's even more good news about the new technology: Researchers say the materials needed to create the seed coatings are widely available and fully biodegradable, and that some components can be derived from food waste, suggesting the system may one day be replicated locally, even in rural areas.
The findings appeared this week in Nature Food. The coating is the result of years of research and inspired by natural coatings on chia and basil seeds. It creates a gel-like cover that clings to moisture, protecting the seed from drying out. The second layer contains nutrients that encourage growth.
Early tests in Morocco have been promising. Researchers are now hoping to expand field tests.
While the seeds will be more expensive to produce, researchers say farmers will save money by reducing the need for water and fertilizer.
They'll also be able to grow more crops during drought-heavy years.
"We wanted to make a coating that is specific to tackling drought," Benedetto Marelli, the study's lead author and an MIT professor of civil and environmental engineering, said in a statement, "Because there is clear evidence that climate change is going to impact the basin of the Mediterranean area.
We need to develop new technologies that can help to mitigate these changes in the climate patterns that are going to make less water available to agriculture."
Thumbnail image courtesy:(Gelgas Airlangga/Pexels)