Multi-walled carbon nanotubes improve nitrogen use efficiency and nutritional quality in Brassica campestris

Shixin Cai, Peng Zhang, Zhiling Guo, Feng Jin, Jingyuan Wang, Zijie Song, Tcyganova Nadezhda, Iseult Lynch, Xiuli Dang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In order to explore the effects of addition of multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) to soil on the nutritional quality and nitrogen assimilation and utilization by Brassica campestris, a pot experiment was conducted with five treatments: conventional fertilization (CK), conventional fertilization + MWCNTs (C), 10% nitrogen (N) reduction + MWCNTs (N1 + C), 20% N reduction + MWCNTs (N2 + C), and 30% N reduction + MWCNTs (N3 + C). The concentration of MWCNTs was 10 mg per kg air-dried soil in each pot. Soil and plant samples were collected on the 15th, 30th and 45th days after treatments. Soil characteristics and activities of enzymes related to nitrogen metabolism were determined. The N assimilation, 15N abundance and the nitrogen utilization efficiency (NUE) in soil and plants were determined using the 15N stable isotope tracer technique. The results showed that the plant height, fresh weight, dry weight, leaf width and leaf area in N2 + C treatment increased by 13.16%, 53.97%, 35.11%, 55.09% and 66.63%, respectively, while there was no significant difference between the other treatments and CK. The contents of soluble sugar and protein increased by 71.36% and 26.39%, respectively, after N2 + C treatment. N2 + C treatment significantly improved the NUE by 85.92%. Further tests showed that N2 + C treatment enhanced the activities of soil enzymes (27.10% for urease, 12.06% for sucrase, 55.64% for protease, 33.62% for nitrate reductase) and N metabolism enzymes (70.65% for nitrate reductase, 60.89% for glutamine synthetase and 67.29% for glutamate synthetase) in plants, which may contribute to the improved NUE. This study for the first time suggests that MWCNTs can be potentially applied in agriculture to improve the NUE of plants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1315-1329
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Science: Nano
Issue number4
Early online date5 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors are thankful to the support from the National Key Research and Development Program of China (No.2017YFD0801103) and the Open Foundation of Northeast Key Laboratory of Conservation and Improvement of Cultivated Land, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China (No.2015NYBKFT). We thank all the technicians for their valuable technical support. ZP, GZL and IL acknowledge funding from the European Commission EU H2020 projects Nano Commons (Grant Agreement No 731032), NanoSolveIT (Grant Agreement No 814572) and Risk Gone (Grant Agreement No 814425), and the UoB Institute for the Global Innovation Environmental Pollution Solutions theme.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Royal Society of Chemistry


  • General Environmental Science
  • Materials Science (miscellaneous)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Materials Science (miscellaneous)


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