What if we had vaccines for field crops? Imagine a world where on-farm robots can deliver tiny injections into each plant, rendering crops resistant to the latest disease or rampant pests. It might also be possible to give growing fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices a jab as a quick way to send nutrients right to the source.

This is how a group of biomaterial scientists and engineers are envisioning the future of crops after developing the first microneedle-based drug delivery technique for plants. Their paper, published in the journal Advanced Materials, details how they were able to provide small compounds to a wide variety of plants and monitor plant response via biomaterial injection. 

For roughly a year and a half, researchers based in Singapore and Cambridge, Massachusetts, tested the needles using GA3, a plant growth regulator widely used in agriculture. Via genetic analysis, the group was able to closely examine the reaction of tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, rice, corn, barley, and soybeans and confirm the effectiveness of the method, noting that it resulted in minimal scar and callus formation. 

Benedetto Marelli, a corresponding author of the paper and associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that the research on microneedle technology was motivated by the desire to offer farmers an alternative to spraying that is more sustainable and ecologically friendly. 

Read more at modernfarmer.com