474707 The “Root” of the Nexus: Soil-Based Biotechnology for Sustainable Agriculture

Monday, November 14, 2016: 3:40 PM
Union Square 15 & 16 (Hilton San Francisco Union Square)
Leslie M. Shor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

Food, energy, and water nexus research by chemical engineers is typically focused on the built environment. For example, innovations in sustainable food production might offer food processing, distribution, or waste recycling technology that minimizes water or energy use. However, recent technological advances in different fields ranging from materials and manufacturing to molecular tools and systems biology are also enabling more sustainable primary production of food in the natural environment. Most of our food is produced in soil, a dynamic natural system of enormous complexity. In particular, the rhizosphere (the region of soil adjacent to plant roots) is a site of steep chemical gradients, plant growth-limiting multiphase transport phenomena, and dynamic inter-kingdom collaboration among members of the root microbiome. Emerging technology is re-engineering the root zone for more sustainable primary food production. Examples of emerging agriculture biotechnology to produce more food with less water and energy include: (i) advanced seed coating technology and nano-enabled agrochemical delivery systems; (ii) plant-growth promoting bacteria and microbial products to improve plant nutrition and enhance moisture retention in soil; and (iii) sensors and sensor networks for precision agriculture. By learning from and working with natural systems, chemical engineers are developing innovative agriculture biotechnology for more sustainable primary food production.

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