NC State is a winner in the Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Julie Willoughby, assistant professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science, and Steve Lommel, William Neal Reynolds distinguished professor of plant pathology, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled “Field Deployable Nutrient-Rich Biodegradable Matrix for Crop Protection.”
The Grand Challenges Explorations initiative funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges.
The NC State team is focused on the rapidly growing Eastern Africa population. Cassava, corn, potato and sweet potato are among the major food crops of these countries providing income and meeting staple needs for households. Poor plant health due to pests and diseases is a major contributing factor to low crop productivity. Unfortunately, subsistence farming practices in sub-Sahara Africa such as use of land-raised seeds, mono-cultivation, and virtually non-existent seed treatment techniques, result in nutrient-deprived soil and plant pathogenic nematode infestation. As these parasitic roundworms attack crop root systems, they feed upon crucial growth nutrients reducing crop yields. The surviving plants also are more vulnerable to secondary infections, drought, and lodging due to severely compromised root systems. It is essential to reduce the nematode population in these farming communities to increase crop yields to help improve the people’s prosperity and well-being.
This project aims to develop and validate a biodegradable cellulose matrix platform technology for seed treatment with active ingredients for crop protection enabled by nano-cargo delivery vehicles and traditional cellulosic pulping processes. The incorporation of active ingredients into a cellulose matrix, such as tissue paper, allows for widespread distribution of crop protection agents without interfering in subsistence farming practices. The shelf-stable light-weight tissue paper can be applied at the point of seed planting where farmers can use the concept of “wrap and plant” with their own seeds. An integral part of the project will be for the team to establish the scientific foundation with host communities in Eastern Africa ensuring translational implementation of the prototype concept, ultimately eliminating the biotic stresses in subsistence farming that reduce crop yield and quality.