BackgroundAgriculture faces significant global challenges including climate change and an increasing food demand due to a growing population. Addressing these challenges will require the adoption of transformative innovations into biotechnology practice, such as nanotechnology. Recently, nanomaterials have emerged as unmatched tools for their use as biosensors, or as biomolecule delivery vehicles. Despite their increasingly prolific use, plant-nanomaterial interactions remain poorly characterized, drawing into question the breadth of their utility and their broader environmental compatibility.
ResultsHerein, we characterize the response of Arabidopsis thaliana to single walled carbon nanotube (SWNT) exposure with two different surface chemistries commonly used for biosensing and nucleic acid delivery: oligonucleotide adsorbed-pristine SWNTs, and polyethyleneimine-SWNTs loaded with plasmid DNA (PEI-SWNTs), both introduced by leaf infiltration. We observed that pristine SWNTs elicit a mild stress response almost undistinguishable from the infiltration process, indicating that these nanomaterials are well-tolerated by the plant. However, PEI-SWNTs induce a much larger transcriptional reprogramming that involves stress, immunity, and senescence responses. PEI-SWNT-induced transcriptional profile is very similar to that of mutant plants displaying a constitutive immune response or treated with stress-priming agrochemicals. We selected molecular markers from our transcriptomic analysis and identified PEI as the main cause of this adverse reaction. We show that PEI-SWNT response is concentration-dependent and, when persistent over time, leads to cell death. We probed a panel of PEI variant-functionalized SWNTs across two plant species and identified biocompatible SWNT surface functionalizations.
ConclusionsWhile SWNTs themselves are well tolerated by plants, SWNTs surface-functionalized with positively charged polymers become toxic and produce cell death. We use molecular markers to identify more biocompatible SWNT formulations. Our results highlight the importance of nanoparticle surface chemistry on their biocompatibility and will facilitate the use of functionalized nanomaterials for agricultural improvement.