Until recently, this ubiquitous element was not given much attention as a possible limiting factor in soil fertility and crop production. Agronomists now recognize valuable functions of silicon nutrition in crops and soils, and even animal life Learn More
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Research conducted on New Jersey soils and in many places around the world have shown that applying supplemental silicon in a chemically available form can protect plant health and benefit crop production
Silicon (Si) is elemental silicon also known as the chemical element. Silica, silicon dioxide, or SiO2, are compounds with silicon and oxygen. Silicate refers to silicon compounds such as CaSiO3, MgSiO3, or K2SiO3. Silicic acid or mono silicic acid (Si(OH)4, or H4SiO4) refers to the soluble, plant-available form of silicon in soils. Silicone refers to R2SiO, where R is an organic group such as methyl, ethyl, or phenyl
Silicon is beneficial to many crops when added to some soils as a fertilizer. It is not classified as an essential element for most plants but horsetail (Equisetum) and some types of algae cannot survive without a supply of silicon from the environment
Many plant species, especially grasses, can take up silicon in amounts comparable to macronutrients. This high concentration of silicon in the plant contributes to plant mechanical strength. Besides a structural role, silicon may protect plants from insect attack, disease, and environmental stress by improving the plant's defense response. For some crops, silicon fertilization of soils increases crop yield even under favorable growing conditions and in the absence of disease
Indirectly, silicon deficiency may be exhibited as an increase in susceptibility to certain plant diseases. Crops such as pumpkin, cucumber, wheat, and Kentucky bluegrass are susceptible to a disease called powdery mildew. Providing enhanced levels of silicon nutrition for these crops may suppress or delay the onset of the disease. When crops exhibit a high level of susceptibility to powdery mildew, this may be considered as a sign of silicon deficiency (Figures 1 and 2)
Addressing poverty, unemployment and food security in South Africa (SA) is paramount to ensuring a sustainable, healthy and productive nation. The country’s inclement climate has resulted in some of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems, which are filled with many nutritious plants and animals uniquely adapted to the harsh conditions. Local capital, both human and natural, will facilitate socio-economic growth through mechanisms of biotechnology. These technologies will increase agricultural efficiency and crop productivity by limiting the incidence of pests and disease, by compensating for decreases in soil fertility and increases in soil toxicity, and by mitigating environmental stressors such as excessive heat and drought. Biotechnology also contributes to reductions in food waste, improved food nutrition and job creation. South African subsistence farmers are ideally aligned to capitalise on these advantages and drive grass roots development
The drive towards sustainable living presents South African subsistence farmers with opportunities for growth and development. It requires utilising the genetic material of indigenous plants and animals by creating commercial products which feed into consumer demand for ‘green’ local products. The associated value chain of product development and market exposure enables skills development and concomitant socio economic stability
The South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) has created the National Indigenous Knowledge Systems Office (NIKSO) and subsidiary, the IKS Bioprospecting and Product Development Platform (IKS-BDP), to co-ordinate the development of biotechnology within rural and subsistence communities. The IKS-BDP is divided into three flagships: the African Traditional Medicine flagship (ATM); the Cosmeceutical flagship; and the Nutraceutical flagship. The ATM flagship is focused on plant based traditional medicines. The Cosmeceutical flagship is focused on traditional cosmetic products and their medicinal properties. The Nutraceutical flagship performs research on traditional food and animal feed preparations (Grootboom, Tang and Chabalala 2014)
An example of the IKS informal sector community technology transfer initiative is the Moringa agri-business development, which has developed and utilised genetic material of the the highly nutritious Moringa oleifera tree. The project has created eight distinct commercial Moringa products; royalties are shared equitably among team member organisations. Other crops which show potential for development are montain, fortified sorghum, rooibos and honeybush. (Department of Science and Technology 2013:24)
South African maize and cotton has been genetically modified to resist predation from insects, which increases crop yield and minimises, or eliminates, the requirement for pesticides. Maize crops have been genetically modified to include genes from an insecticidal soil bacterium called Bacillus theringiensis (Bt), which causes the plant to become toxic to susceptible insects (Gouse, Pray, Kirsten and Schimmelpfennig et al 2005:84). Genetically modified South African cotton contains a protein that provides the plant with protection from budworms and bollworms (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications 2014)
A variety of South African crops have been engineered to resist infectious diseases caused by bacteria and viruses. Potatoes have been engineered with a coat protein of the leaf roll virus to control potato virus Y (Woodward, Brink and Berger 1999:176), and maize has been engineered to resist the fungal pathogen Stenocarpella myadis through the addition of a polyglacturonase-inhibiting protein gene (Woodward, Brink and Berger 1999:177)
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