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(Editor’s Note: The following article deals with recent technology concerning a non-chemical seed treatment process called “cold plasma treatment.” This very promising process is still in its commercial infancy, so there are currently no sources for plasma-treated seeds. But we feel our customers at Seeds ‘n Such should be made aware of all seed industry research regarding advances that could help insure a sustainable and nutritious food supply. Currently, Seeds ‘n Such does not sell any “treated seeds,” but we are monitoring this sustainable, non-chemical, cold plasma-treatment process, and when properly-tested seeds come into the marketplace, Seeds ‘n Such plans to make them available to you.)
With consumers around the world concerned about the safety of using genetically-modified (GM) seeds and crops in our food supply, it is comforting to know that extensive research shows there is a foolproof sustainable seed treatment process that dramatically boosts germination rates and crop performance. “Cold Radiofrequency Plasma Treatment” is its name in the scientific world, and it “requires no chemical inputs or genetic manipulation.”
“Imagine a viable seed treatment process that would be permitted under existing guidelines for organic farming and sustainable agriculture that could strike a blow against the manufacturers of GM seed and their rapid dissemination throughout industrial agriculture,” says author Chris Bond in his article “New, Old Seed Treatment,” in the January, 2016, issue of Acres magazine. “This treatment would allow seeds to germinate faster than their non-treated counterparts,” he adds, “They would grow more quickly, be more floriferous, produce more fruit and help producers both large and small realize greater yields.
“There is such a treatment that requires no chemical inputs or genetic manipulation, and researchers and private enterprises are currently experimenting with this method around the globe,” he continues. “It is not a new method, with published research dating as far back as the 1970s, but researchers and scientists both academic and in the private sector, have been devoting enormous resources over the last decade to discover all of the potential benefits of treating seeds with this method.”
According to Bond, the cold radiofrequency plasma treatment “essentially adds air, the same air that you and I breathe, to the coating of seeds by adding tiny porations (holes). By doing so, the wetting properties of the coatings of seeds are altered, and the seeds are able to absorb more water during germination.” Bond defines “plasma” as the fourth state of matter, “one energy step above gas; the other three states of matter being solids, liquids and gases. Any matter in its gaseous stage can become plasma if it is ionized, that is, giving it enough energy to cross over the barrier from the gas stage to the plasma one.”
Bond notes, “The process of plasma treating seeds occurs in a vacuum chamber where super-charged air is introduced to plasma. For this process to occur, the air inside the chamber is exposed to a radio frequency at 13.56 MHz to break the nitrogen and oxygen molecules in half, creating free-radicals. These free-radicals are both highly reactive and very unstable. They seek out any available surface with which they can bond. Enter the seed. Seeds, which are primarily composed of carbon, are an easy surface for the nitrogen and oxygen free-radicals to adhere to.
“The increased amount of oxygen on the seed coat increases its electric charge and makes it more polar,” he adds, “Water is a polar molecule, and since like dissolves like, the seed is able to soak up more available moisture during the germination period. This increase in water increases the rate of metabolism of the endosperm, which translates to a faster breakdown and use by the seed of the nutrients within it, allowing the plant to develop and grow more quickly. Plasma-treated seeds produce seedlings with more mass, length and vitality. Plasma-treated seedlings also tend to possess greater development of axil leaf buds.”
Bond says one of the key potential benefits of faster germination would be, “Ecologically speaking, plasma-treated seeds would be able to out-compete weeds. If said crops germinated faster in the soil and got a jump-start over the weeds, they would be the clear victors. Faster germination time could translate into many benefits for farmers and home growers alike from a harvesting standpoint,” he adds, “Crops could be ready sooner and on our tables earlier. This could allow for more successional plantings and more harvests per year.”
Regarding research to validate these potential benefits, Bond cites, “A 2005 study on cold plasma-treated tomatoes showed that the plasma-treated tomatoes had a 28 percent higher germination rate, an 8 percent higher total survivability rate and an 11 percent higher number of plants surviving to the transplant stage than the non-treated control.
The plasma-treated plants continued to outperform the control as the tomato plants continued their development. “The yields of the plasma-treated plants were 22 to 26 percent higher, and the weights per tomato were 9 to 16 percent higher in the treated versus non-treated plants (Meiqiang, et al, 2005),” he states, “In general, research has repeatedly shown a correlation between plants receiving a cold plasma treatment during their seed phase and increases of fruit yield per plant, mass of total yield per plant, mass per fruit, size of fruit and quality of fruit.”
According to Bond, other major potential benefits of increased wettability would be “the need for less irrigation water for food production” and an “increased storage time of seeds, allowing for a greater amount of time between the treatment and the sowing of seeds. This is an important aspect as many may have heard the myriad stories of farmers facing huge legal challenges and fines if caught saving GMO seed. There would be no such penalty for storing plasma-treated seed. Farmers and gardeners could plant only as much as they needed and be confident that the germination rates for the following season would still be acceptable.”
Perhaps the greatest benefit of plasma-treated seeds is their “ability to resist disease,” says Bond, “Seeds treated with plasma have anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties. The cold plasma treatment essentially ‘inactivates’ bacteria and fungi that are present on the seeds. This means that fewer seeds are lost to common diseases such as damping off that reduce the viability of young seedlings and thereby both the germination rates and the vigor of the seeds are improved. This also means that the conventional seed treatments of everything from hot water to chlorine and fungicides can be reduced or eliminated if using the cold plasma methods. A recent study from China confirmed this.”
Bond is convinced, “The potential for this technology is amazing. It could also lend itself to aiding in the preservation of rare and disappearing plant species. A 2009 study analyzing effects of cold plasma treatment on the dormancy of seeds revealed that along with increased germination of seeds, dormancy levels were reduced. This means that species with naturally long and extended periods of dormancy, which are disappearing due to plant competition by invasive species, could get a reprieve. Plasma-treated seeds could be re-introduced and allow these endangered plant species a better chance to survive.”
Citing another research report in 2012, conducted by Israeli scientists on bean and wheat seeds, Bond “reported the following about the efficacy of the plasma treatment in general: ‘We conclude that cold radio-frequency air plasma treatment of seeds supplied the effective method of modification of their surface properties including wettability. Plasma treatment leads to the dramatic decrease in the apparent contact angle of seeds. As a result, water imbibition of plasma-treated seeds increased. Perhaps, the most important result is the increase in the eventual germination rate (yield) of all kinds of seeds used in the investigation.’
Bond concludes, “This is a promising step forward in the fight against GM seeds. Not all types of seeds have been plasma-treated and results recorded yet. As growers and consumers, you can demand seeds from your local nurseries and garden centers, which have been treated using cold plasma. You may have to educate the people you ask, but it will help to raise awareness and get these seeds into our collective hands sooner.
“There are still many years of research and millions of dollars to be spent to get these plasma-treated seeds into the marketplace on a grand scale,” he notes, “but our salvation from GM seeds may be right under our noses, or more correctly, in our nostrils.”