Scientific Forum 2015: Super Crops Created from Irradiated Natural Polymers in Viet Nam via IAEA

Looking to increase yield and eliminate disease, farmers in Viet Nam are now feeding their plants oligochitosan [O-LEE-GO-KITE-O-SAN] and oligoalginate [O-LEE-GO-AL-GI-NATE], substances made from irradiated natural polymers.

And it’s working.

Oligochitosan and oligoalginate come from shrimp shells and brown seaweed, respectively. These, and other natural polymers such as sago starch, cassava starch and palm oil, are exposed to precise doses of radiation in controlled environments, which changes their molecular structures and gives them plant-enhancing properties. The resulting products are not radioactive, and are biodegradable and non-toxic.

Oligochitosan, a bright yellow liquid produced by the Viet Nam Atomic Energy Institute (Vinatom), has almost eliminated the use of harmful fungicides in agriculture across the country, said Nguyen Quoc Hien, of the Vinatom Research and Development Centre for Radiation Technology. “It protects plants from fungal and bacterial infection, suppressing diseases. And it also stops the spread of the Tobacco Mosaic Virus, a disease which infects well over 350 different species of plants, not just tobacco.” The use of nuclear techniques in industry will be the topic of this year’s Scientific Forum in Vienna, 15-16 September.

Plants treated with oligoalginate, which has the deep brown colour of molasses, grow quicker and up to 56 per cent  bigger than untreated plants, Hien said. One teardrop’s worth of liquid oligochitosan dissolved in one litre of water can be used to prevent diseases in plants and significantly increase the rate at which they grow.

The widespread use of non-toxic products like oligochitosan, which leave no harmful residue behind, is ultimately better for consumers, and opens up greater possibilities for national agricultural exports. Oligochitosan can even extend the shelf life of fruits like mangoes and oranges, keeping them firm and attractive to consumers for longer periods. Oligochitosan and its associated products like Gold Nano and Silver Nano, which are made from the same base polymers but with the addition of gold or silver particles before irradiation, are used in a number of other ways. They can be added to the feed of farmed fish, chicken and shrimp to improve the animals’ immune systems, survival chances, and propensity for weight gain. They can also be used to clean up water in aquaculture and kill bacteria where infection is already present.

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