Editorial Feature

Single- and Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotubes and Graphene in Crop Breeding

Human life depends on an efficient and long-term agricultural production system. Agricultural productivity, however, is suffering from severe environmental deterioration. Many new scientific and technical innovations have evolved to supply the human demand for food, such as new procedures (gene editing) and advanced materials (nanomaterials). This has been explored in the journal Crop Design.

StudyOpportunities for graphene, single-walled and multi-walled carbon nanotube applications in agriculture: A review. Image Credit: FotoGam/Shutterstock.com

Nanomaterials are widely employed in electrical, mechanical, energy, and biomedical applications. Researchers discovered that nanomaterials could be absorbed by plants, transported to various tissues and organs, improved seed germination rates, and promoted plant development.

Nanomaterials can also be utilized to create sensors that collect real-time data on plant physiological conditions to improve plants’ ability to respond to environmental stresses and increase agricultural and forest output. Metals, metal oxides, carbon nanoparticles, and polymers are the most common nanomaterials, with carbon nanomaterials attracting the most attention from researchers due to their unique chemical characteristics, structures, and low toxicity.

Single-walled carbon nanotubes, multi-walled carbon nanotubes, graphene, carbon nanohorns, carbon nano-onions, fullerenes, and carbon nano quantum dots are the most common carbon nanomaterials discovered so far. Carbon nanoparticles can infiltrate plant cells and deliver DNA vectors, as well as affect seed germination and plant growth.

Graphene is a single-walled carbon nanotube made out of a two-dimensional one-atom-thick sheet of carbon coiled into a cylinder. Multi-walled carbon nanotubes wrapped into cylinders inside other carbon cylinders can be used to make multiple graphene sheets. They all have a large specific surface area and may be engineered to accommodate a wide range of oxygen-containing functional groups, such as carboxyl groups.

Carbon nanoparticles in agriculture have received a lot of attention in recent years. This paper summarizes the nanoparticle applications in single- and multi-walled nanotubes and graphene in crop breeding. Graphene’s impacts on plant growth, water, fertilizer, and pesticide use, environmental stress, the plant-graphene interaction mechanism, and its environmental effects were also studied. This study serves as a resource for key carbon nanomaterial uses in agriculture.


The goal of agricultural genetic engineering is to create pathogen-resistant and high-yielding crops. Plant cell walls, on the other hand, act as a barrier to foreign biomolecule delivery. Conventional gene delivery technologies, such as Agrobacterium-mediated genetic transformation and gene guns, are ineffective, cause plant tissue damage and only work in a few plant species and genotypes.

Nanoparticles having a diameter of less than 50 nm are potential materials for transporting biomolecules into plant cells for genetic engineering to develop crops with desirable characteristics.

SWCNTs (single-walled carbon nanotubes) have a diameter of around 1 nm and can readily pass through the plant cell wall barrier. Researchers have devised a way to graft DNA onto SWCNTs via electrostatic attraction as a result of this characteristic.

To carry a net positive charge, carboxylated single-walled carbon nanotubes (COOH-SWCNTs) were covalently altered with poly-ethylenimine (PEI). After that, negatively charged phosphate groups on plasmid DNA vectors are incubated with positively charged PEI–COOH–SWCNTs.

This cargo tool was recently used to accomplish high-efficiency green fluorescent protein (GFP) gene delivery as well as a transient expression without transgene integration in mature leaf and protoplast cells of both dicot and monocot plants, such as Nicotiana benthamiana, Gossypium hirsutum, Eruca sativa, and Triticum aestivum.

Because of their bigger particle size, multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) are less efficient in delivering DNA into plant cells than SWCNTs. The benefits of multi-walled carbon nanotubes in plant gene transfer were demonstrated in this study.

In living cells, graphene oxide and poly-ethylenimine (PEI) conjugates demonstrated a high transfection efficiency of enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP). The use of graphene oxide substrates to preconcentrate PEI/pDNA complexes resulted in effective gene transport and gene transfection in a variety of cell lines, involving stem cell research and tissue engineering.

Incorporating foreign vectors of DNA, mRNA, RNAi, or CRISPR/Cas9 into the crop host genome using graphene-mediated transformation technologies in agriculture has the potential to impact crop genetic manipulation in the future.

Graphene biosensors, impacts of graphene on plant physiology, seedling root growth, seed germination, plant biomass, and food quality, as well as water, fertilizer, and pesticide consumption efficiency in agriculture, are all areas of current research on graphene’s influence on plants.

The interaction of biomaterials and graphene may be used as a nanosensor platform for monitoring bacterial development, according to a recent breakthrough. These findings suggest that graphene might be utilized as a biosensor to swiftly sense and gather target desired trait information in crops, thereby speeding up the breeding selection process.

According to a new study, graphene can make the Asian corn borer “fatter” while also shortening its lifespan. In the future, this type of graphene-based pesticide delivery device might be used to protect plants. In a recent study, graphene was utilized to treat 48 plant types to see how it affected root development.

C atoms make up the majority of graphene, and its surface is rich in oxygen-containing functional groups like carboxyl (-COOH) and hydroxyl (-OH). At low concentrations, these functional groups and cation-π interactions in graphene can attract cations (e.g., NH4+ and K+) in the soil, nutrient supply for plant root growth.


For sensitive consumers, the usage of graphene in food crops might pose a safety risk. Researchers employed 14C-labeled graphene to study the uptake, distribution, conversion, and depuration of graphene in rice, discovering that graphene may be transferred swiftly from roots to shoots and leaves. 14C-labeled graphene may get through cell walls and membranes into the chloroplast of leaves, where it reacts with OH, causing graphene to degrade via mineralization into 14CO2.

Although rice may absorb graphene, long-cycle experiments revealed that the buildup of graphene in stems and leaves vanished 15 days after exposure to graphene, and also no graphene remained in harvested rice. In addition, it was discovered that microorganisms in the soil environment might destroy graphene.

Because the polycyclic structure of graphene is comparable to that of lignin and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, lignin enzymes released by certain fungi can break down and destroy graphene. This research might be useful in addressing public concerns about the safety of using engineered graphene in agricultural production.


Carbon nanomaterial-based innovations might help agriculture systems become more sustainable, efficient, and robust. Carbon nanomaterials in agriculture are becoming more widely used, and the fundamental knowledge of carbon nanomaterial-plant interactions will continue to improve.

Another area where carbon nanomaterials may be used in agriculture is to improve biomolecule and agrochemical delivery efficiency, including delivery timing, location, dosage, and shape. As a result, it is possible that carbon nanomaterials, such as single-walled carbon nanotubes, multi-walled carbon nanotubes, and graphene, will be used to create “smart plants” in the future.

Journal Reference:

Chen, Z., Zhao, J., Cao, J., Zhao, Y., Huang, J., Zheng, Z., Li, W., Jiang, S., Qiao, J., Xing, B., Zhang, J. (2022). Opportunities for graphene, single-walled and multi-walled carbon nanotube applications in agriculture: A review. Crop Design, 1(1), p.100006. Available Online: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2772899422000064

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