IIT Mandi researchers develop smart biogradable microgels to aid sustainable farming practices

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mandi have developed biodegradable smart microgels to make farming practices more sustainable and reduce harmful impacts from the use of pesticides and agricultural chemicals.

The research has been published in the journal Carbohydrate Polymers.

According to officials, modern agriculture relies heavily on the use of various agrochemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers on crops to meet the food demand of a growing population.

“These agrochemicals are used excessively in the fields to make up for their losses by leaching, degradation, precipitation, evaporation, dust drift, etc. Frequent use of these agrochemicals leads to higher cost and also causes negative impacts on the environment, including That’s groundwater and soil. Human health,” Garima Agrawal, Assistant Professor in the School of Chemical Sciences, IIT Mandi told PTI.

“The main objective of this research is to develop sustainable farming practices that can reduce the harmful environmental impacts of currently prevailing agricultural practices that involve excessive use of agrochemicals. These chemicals, when applied repeatedly in fields, affect soil quality. In addition, These excessive agrochemicals also slowly seep through the soil and pollute the groundwater as well.”

Agrawal explained that these agrochemicals also get washed away in the rain and reach nearby water sources such as a lake, river or stream and pollute them. The use of biodegradable microgels as a smart delivery system for fertilizers and pesticides has the potential to provide a solution to this problem.

The team developed natural polymer-based multifunctional smart microgels for both insecticide and nutrient delivery.

“These materials are environmentally friendly due to their biodegradable property and responsiveness to stimuli that allows for sustained release of loaded agrochemicals for a longer period. These oxidation-sensitive chitosan-based microgels can release their contents in response to changes in the surrounding environment. These microgels are also biodegradable, which makes It ensures that it will degrade over time and not pollute the environment.

“The developed microgels have a high loading capacity of pesticides and nutrients which in turn can be released in a time-dependent manner by taking advantage of the stimuli-responsive feature of the microgels. The developed microgels have excellent foliar adhesion and are biocompatible in nature,” said Agrawal.

Researchers studied the developed formula with pea plants and the results showed no negative effect on seed germination and plant elongation, making it an attractive option for agricultural application.

To test the effectiveness of the microgels, the team loaded them with a typical insecticide and investigated their release over time. They found that the microgels were able to release the loaded insecticide over several days, providing sustained release that could reduce the need for repeated applications of insecticide.

“Microgels are also able to improve plant nutrient uptake, suggesting that the use of oxidation-sensitive microgels and chitosan could have significant benefits for sustainable farming practices. The polymer is chitosan in its formulation.”