A dose of carbon nanotubes more than doubles the growth rate of plant cell cultures — workhorses in the production of everything from lifesaving medications to sweeteners to dyes and perfumes — researchers are reporting. Their study, the first to show that carbon nanotubes boost plant cell division and growth, appears in the journal ACS Nano.
Mariya V. Khodakovskaya and colleagues explain that their previous research demonstrated that so-called multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) can penetrate through the thick coatings on seeds, stimulate germination of the seeds and stimulate the growth of certain plants. MWCNTs are wisps of pure carbon so small that thousands would fit on the period at the end of this sentence. Those discoveries "have the potential to transform agricultural practices in the near future and to provide solutions to some of the most serious problems related to plant growth and development," the scientists said.
Their new research focused on how MWCNTs affect the growth of model tobacco plant cell cultures. Plant cells of many plant species, grown in large industrial vats, find extensive use in producing medical and commercial products and plants for agriculture. The scientists found that tiny amounts of MWCNTs ramped up the activity of genes involved in cell growth. MWCNTs also seem to work by activation of channels that transport water into cells, helping cells divide and grow faster.