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Carbon nanotubes find an unusual use as fertilisers

MANURE, compost and ash were used as fertilisers for centuries before the 1800s, but people did not understand how they worked until the science of chemistry was developed in the 19th century and it became clear that they supply plants with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Today, something similar may be happening with a different sort of fertiliser altogether. For reasons that are not yet entirely clear, it looks as though exposing seeds to carbon nanotubes before they germinate makes the seedlings that subsequently sprout grow faster and larger.

A carbon nanotube is, as its name suggests, a tiny cylinder of carbon atoms. Such tubes have been proposed for all sorts of fancy uses, particularly in electronics, but they and other nanoparticles (so called because their dimensions are measured in nanometres, or billionths of a metre) have also been objects of concern. The fear is that if they became ubiquitous, they might damage living creatures, people included, by interfering with the way cells work. …

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