Opportunities to advance sustainable design of nano-enabled agriculture identified through a literature review
The application of nanotechnology in agriculture and food systems is a new and rapidly evolving area of research with the potential to positively impact an industry that is experiencing increased demand under increasingly stressed resources. Given the intimate relationship between agriculture, the environment, and human health, a proactive approach to design is critical – one that is informed by considering the trade-offs between potential benefits realized by nano-enabling and potential adverse impacts imposed by their use. This tutorial review includes an overview of current and proposed nano-enabled applications that are unique to agriculture and food systems to identify, (i) the function provided and proposed benefits realized through nano-enabling, (ii) the efficiency of (nano)material use, and (iii) the proposed mechanism through which the ‘nano’ component of the design operates. It is through this review that three primary suggestions emerge, offering guidance for ongoing studies to inform design for enhanced agriculture sustainability: the need for (i) comprehensive data reporting, including material flows (input, emissions, and retention in the environment or product) of the engineered nanomaterials or active ingredient used, (ii) experimental design that includes non-nano controls, and (iii) identification and discussion of mechanisms underlying how the ‘nano’ aspect of the design enables the observed outcome. In addition to overarching guidance for continued research to inform design for enhanced agriculture sustainability, suggestions unique to each reviewed product class are also provided.