Room for “Nanobombs”

Apertura._portalejpgLet’s imagine that in the near future we will be able to cure some diseases which affect vines with some products offered by the vines themselves, recovered from waste materials coming from pruning or marc. This might happen by using these precious natural molecules introducing them as nanocapsules, that is to say small particles which will be able to release gradually the biopesticides they carry, in small amounts and avoiding their washing away due to rains. This surgical work, perfectly measured, would be of great help to wine-growers, both for treatments on the plant and stages which follow the harvesting.

Made in Italy study

It is certainly captivating news, so much that some news agencies, winking at imaginary world and science fiction, immediately saw this opportunity as the beginning of a new era, the one of nanobombs, with reference to the use of the nanocapsules for treating plants in effective and targeted way. In fact, behind all this there is a rigorous and complex scientific study, authentically made ​​in Italy, presented by the working group at the University La Sapienza of Rome. This group, led by Professor Gabriella Pasqua, has just finished the first part of this research. Gabriella Pasqua herself, responsible person of this project, explained to us history, goals and, above all, the many prospects concerning this application, which are certainly very interesting for both care of the vineyards and stages that follow the harvesting.
Gabriella Pasqua, who teaches General Botany and Cellular Biotechnology in the degree course in biological sciences, explains: “This research was funded through an announcement inside the university. This project of ours was born from the experience previously gained by our working group, constituted by experts in vegetal biology, industrial chemistry, and microbiology. In recent years, I have personally dealt with natural products directly obtained from plants, or by using in vitro cell systems. Therefore, the beginning of this research has made ​​the most of this knowledge, as well as the study of antimicrobial activity carried out by some substances, such as resveratrol and its by-products, viniferines. These compounds are naturally produced by vine in the case of fungal attack. Beginning from these results, cell lines of vine coming from varieties of both table and wine grapes were obtained. These cell lines were chosen among the ones which produced the greatest amount of these compounds, such as Italia, Alphonse Lavallée and Malvasia. This initial step allowed us to use the results we had obtained as a key to the study on which the new project was built. In addition, these cell lines were used in order to verify the possibility of inserting nanoparticles loaded with bioactive molecules in the vine cells“.

Resveratrol weapons

From previous researches it emerged that the production of resveratrol is higher or lower, depending on whether the plant suffered fungal attack. This compound is concentrated in the peel of grapes, grape-stalks and leaves. In addition, another class of molecules, such as procyanidins contained in grape seeds, boasts not only proven activity against pathogenic funguses of plants, but also human ones. This was demonstrated by a study patented by the Authors with the University La Sapienza and CRA – Consiglio per la ricerca e la sperimentazione in agricoltura (Council for Research and experimentation in Agriculture). By combining this information, the working group focused on the possibility of recovering this valuable raw material, using such waste in the supply chain of wine production as grape-stalks, fermented or non-fermented marc and green grapes resulting from the activities of cluster thinning.
From this passage, nanotechnologies enter the project as co-stars. They demonstrate to be useful allies in order to prevent both waste and easy degradation of substances due to their use for treatments not focused on the plant. The starting point consists in another patent (Sapienza University), already widely tested in the biomedical field, which allows loading the nanoparticles with selected drugs and obtaining a gradual and above all targeted release of the substances themselves. The capsules with a polymer shell, whose order of magnitude is 30-50 nanometres, have a basic characteristic: they are empty inside and therefore can then be filled with the molecules they have to carry.

The next step

At this point of the research, the nanocapsules were loaded with fluorescent molecules, in order to study under a microscope their entry into vine cells. The results, as researcher explained, are positive and encouraging: “We have been able to demonstrate that the smaller nanocapsules enter cells without causing damages. The larger ones, even if do not directly enter the cells, remain adherent to the wall, so creating a kind of protective film. The next step, which is already under study, consists in testing the nebulisation of these nanocapsules on vine plants, so simulating a real treatment with non toxic pesticides“. So we come to the next step. It consists in testing the behaviour of the nanocapsules, this time not loaded with blanks cartridges, but with viniferines and procyanidins. If the results are positive, it is not hard to imagine how many doors might open up for professionals in the wine sector, because they would have at their disposal new allies for fighting against diseases of the plant. These new pesticides, completely environmentally friendly and safe for humans, animals and the environment, may also add greater efficiency to safety for the operators. So, there is little science fiction, and a lot of reality. Did the era of nanobombs really begin?

(in a box) From medicine to the vineyard
Professor Pasqua explains: “Our interest focused on the ability to demonstrate the effectiveness of this technique, which is already widely used in medicine, even on plants. It is also interesting that these nanocapsules can be obtained in quick and economic way. Therefore, they may represent a source of interest for their use on a large scale“.

Article by Emiliano Raccagni

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