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Greg Lowry’s nanoparticle (NP) technology holds the potential to revolutionize the agricultural sector. Marking a new achievement in his research Lowry, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, has proven able to deliver therapeutic NPs that will remain active within a plant for at least 15 days. This is significant for agriculturists looking for a way to protect their crop from extreme heat or disease, and marks a major milestone on the path toward the ultimate goal of NPs: to protect the plant for an entire growing season.

While not the end goal, the ability to immunize plants for at least 15 days represents immense progress for Lowry’s NPs. This is significant for farmers too, whose work and decisions often rely heavily on the weather and predicting local conditions in their environment. Two weeks is a substantial amount of time to be able to protect against the numerous, potentially disastrous events that can result from disease or extreme weather. It also represents strong progress toward Lowry’s ultimate goal of developing NPs that can last within the plant for the entire growing season—about three months. The ability to immunize a plant for that long with just one spray could yield massive savings for agriculturists, reaped in time, materials, and a better crop.

The content of the NP used in Lowry’s most recent study helps plants resist the impacts of extreme heat; however, they can just as easily deliver factors promoting resistance to disease, pests, or other environmental conditions to a precise location. These threats will only become more pronounced as our climate continues to change due to global warming. Lowry and his team are also researching a means to enable plants to biomanufacturer therapeutic agents, delivering genetic material (plasmids) to enable the plant to manufacture proteins, such as for use in vaccines.

In the long term, Lowry plans to use his NPs to help fight other environmental hazards threatening plants like citrus greening disease. He is part of a team charged by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with developing a means to halt the advance of this disease that has ravaged US citrus harvests in recent years. In Florida, about 90 percent of the citrus industry has been destroyed, and this plant pandemic is rapidly spreading further west, threatening crucial agricultural regions like Texas and California. In something of a race against time, the USDA has funded Lowry and his colleagues’ efforts to develop an effective foliar treatment that can halt the disease’s relentless advance.