Special Issue "Biostimulants and Micronutrients: Innovative Tools to Increase Crop Quality and Abiotic Stress Tolerance in Plants"

A special issue of Agronomy (ISSN 2073-4395). This special issue belongs to the section "Farming Sustainability".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 July 2021.

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Roberto D'Amato
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Guest Editor
Department of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, University of Perugia, Perugia, Italy
Interests: plant nutrition; selenium; crop biofortification; oxidative stress; soil; antioxidant compounds
Dr. Juan Jose Rios
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Guest Editor
Aquaporin group, Plant Nutrition Department, Centro de Edafologia y Biologia Aplicada del Segura (CEBAS-CSIC), Murcia, Spain
Interests: biofortification; plant nutrition; abiotic stress, fertilizers, homeostasis; secondary metabolism

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Nowadays, climate change affects crop production and quality worldwide. Plants are subjected to various types of abiotic stress, such as drought, salinity, and mineral deficiencies, which decrease plant growth. In an attempt to increase abiotic stress tolerance in plants, the application of biostimulants and micronutrients has been proposed as a novel and promising agronomic strategy.

Biostimulants comprise organic compounds (such as humic and fulvic acids, protein hydrolysates, seaweed and plant extracts, microorganisms such as mycorrhizal and non-mycorrhizal fungi, bacterial endosymbionts, and plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria) and inorganic compounds (such as silicon and selenium).

Biostimulants improve soil nutrient availability through the stimulation of enzymatic and hormonal activities, and the modification of the natural microbial community. Although there are many papers dealing with biostimulants, it is still necessary to investigate and determine their mechanisms of action on plants as well as their effects on crop quality.

Concerning agricultural crops for human consumption, the use of biostimulants can also enhance the concentration of some beneficial elements (microelements and oligoelements) in the edible tissues of plants, which, in turn, are useful for human health. Therefore, biostimulants could also be used in biofortification programs.

In this Special Issue, the application of both micro-oligonutrients and biostimulants for increasing crop quality and abiotic stress tolerance in plants will be discussed. 

Dr. Roberto D'Amato
Dr. Juan Jose Rios
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • biofortification
  • biostimulation
  • mineral content
  • production
  • healthy compounds
  • abiotic stress
  • fertilizers
  • change climate
  • oligoelements
  • micronutrients

Published Papers (12 papers)

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Research

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Article
Extracts of Emmer Wheatgrass Grown with Distilled Water, Salinity or Selenium Differently Affect Germination and Cytosolic Ca2+ of Maize Pollen
Agronomy 2021, 11(4), 633; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11040633 - 26 Mar 2021
Viewed by 306
Abstract
In this work, the biological activity of emmer (Triticum turgidum L. spp. dicoccum (Schrank ex Shubler) Thell.) wheatgrass extracts obtained from grains sprouted with distilled water, or salinity (50 mM) or selenium (45 mg L−1 of Na2SeO3), [...] Read more.
In this work, the biological activity of emmer (Triticum turgidum L. spp. dicoccum (Schrank ex Shubler) Thell.) wheatgrass extracts obtained from grains sprouted with distilled water, or salinity (50 mM) or selenium (45 mg L−1 of Na2SeO3), was tested through an experimental biological model based on the germination and cytosolic Ca2+ homeostasis of maize pollen grains. The effects of thapsigargin (TG) and of four phenolic acids (PAs: ferulic, coumaric, salicylic and 3-HO benzoic) on maize pollen were also tested as controls. Wheatgrass extracts influenced both pollen cytosolic Ca2+ and germination. The Ca2+ agonist activity of emmer wheatgrass was transient, different from that of TG, which caused a depletion of the stored Ca2+ and a permanent alteration of Ca2+ homeostasis. The results obtained with extracts compared to those obtained with pure PAs suggest that PAs in unconjugated forms, which are known to be well represent in emmer wheatgrass, contribute to the biological activity of extracts. The extent of the biological response of emmer wheatgrass extracts was influenced by emmer sprouting conditions (i.e., distilled water, or salinity or selenium). Maize pollen treated with Se-enriched wheatgrass extracts showed a less perturbed cytosolic Ca2+ and a higher germination rate. Full article
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Article
Effect of a Biostimulant on Bermudagrass Fall Color Retention and Spring Green-Up
Agronomy 2021, 11(3), 608; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11030608 - 23 Mar 2021
Viewed by 342
Abstract
Field research was conducted in 2017–2019 on “Princess 77” bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers.) to determine whether an amino acid based biostimulant program applied in the late season (October-November) and early season (March-April) could extend fall color retention (FCR) or hasten the [...] Read more.
Field research was conducted in 2017–2019 on “Princess 77” bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers.) to determine whether an amino acid based biostimulant program applied in the late season (October-November) and early season (March-April) could extend fall color retention (FCR) or hasten the spring green-up (SGU), respectively. Bermudagrass was treated with the biostimulant under five different managements: non-treated; 6 times at 5 L ha−1 weekly; 3 times at 5 L ha−1 in a 14-day interval; 6 times at 10 L ha−1 weekly; and 3 times at 10 L ha−1 in a 14-day interval. Normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and visual ratings (turf green color and percentage of green coverage in the subplot) were determined weekly, and turf clipping dry weight for the SGU studies. At the end of the FCR studies (2017 and 2018), there was no effect of the biostimulant; although, some isolated positive effects were detected during the experiment in 2017 on bermudagrass treated weekly at 10 L ha−1 for NDVI. However, there was a slight positive effect on SGU when this physiological process occurred slowly (year 2018) and the biostimulant was applied weekly at 10 L ha−1 (4.4 kg N ha−1), compared to another performed management and warmer years (2017 and 2019). Full article
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Article
Foliar Micronutrient Application for High-Yield Maize
Agronomy 2020, 10(12), 1946; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10121946 - 11 Dec 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 574
Abstract
Nebraska soils are generally micronutrient sufficient. However, critical levels for current yields have not been validated. From 2013 to 2015, 26 on-farm paired comparison strip-trials were conducted across Nebraska to test the effect of foliar-applied micronutrients on maize (Zea mays L.) yield [...] Read more.
Nebraska soils are generally micronutrient sufficient. However, critical levels for current yields have not been validated. From 2013 to 2015, 26 on-farm paired comparison strip-trials were conducted across Nebraska to test the effect of foliar-applied micronutrients on maize (Zea mays L.) yield and foliar nutrient concentrations. Treatments were applied from V6 to V14 at sites with 10.9 to 16.4 Mg ha−1 yield. Soils ranged from silty clays to fine sands. Soil micronutrient availability and tissue concentrations were all above critical levels for deficiency. Significant grain yield increases were few. Micronutrient concentrations for leaf growth that occurred after foliar applications were increased 4 to 9 mg Zn kg−1 at 5 of 17 sites with application of 87 to 119 g Zn ha−1, 12 to 16 mg kg−1 Mn at 2 of 17 sites with application of 87 to 89 g Mn ha−1, and an average of 8.1 mg kg−1 Fe across 10 sites showing signs of Fe deficiency with application of 123 g foliar Fe ha−1. Foliar B concentration was not affected by B application. Increases in nutrient concentrations were not related to grain yield responses except for Mn (r = 0.54). The mean, significant grain yield response to 123 g foliar Fe ha−1 was 0.4 Mg ha−1 for the 10 sites with Fe deficiency symptoms. On average, maize yield response to foliar Fe application can be profitable if Fe deficiency symptoms are observed. Response to other foliar micronutrient applications is not likely to be profitable without solid evidence of a nutrient deficiency. Full article
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Article
Foliar Mineral Treatments for The Reduction of Melon (Cucumis melo L.) Fruit Cracking
Agronomy 2020, 10(11), 1815; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10111815 - 19 Nov 2020
Viewed by 638
Abstract
Fruit cracking affects many types of crops and is a major problem since the breakage of the surface of the fruit produces high economic losses. Numerous studies have looked at different ways to prevent this, mainly in melon, but with a low success [...] Read more.
Fruit cracking affects many types of crops and is a major problem since the breakage of the surface of the fruit produces high economic losses. Numerous studies have looked at different ways to prevent this, mainly in melon, but with a low success rate. In this work, a standardisation of the induction of cracking is proposed that involves changes in the irrigation pattern (high conductivity or double irrigation). The prevention of the appearance of cracking was carried out through different foliar mineral treatments. The incidence of cracking was studied in relation to gas exchange variables and the concentrations of minerals in tissues. Our results show a more pronounced increase in cracking with double irrigation. Multiple elements were found to be associated with cracking such as B, Ca, K, Mg, Mn, Na, P, and Zn. Furthermore, foliar application of different microelements (B, Cu, Fe, Mn, Mo, and Zn) decreased the melon cracking incidence, thus assigning to the appropriate combination of these elements a crucial role in cracking amelioration. Full article
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Article
Micronutrient Foliar Fertilization for the Biofortification of Raw and Minimally Processed Early Potatoes
Agronomy 2020, 10(11), 1744; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10111744 - 10 Nov 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 489
Abstract
Agronomic fortification with microelement as well as macronutrients has been used in recent years with increasing frequency to improve the nutritional quality of plant products for human consumption. Here the influence of pre-harvest foliar micronutrients fertilization (Micro+) including B, Cu, Fe, Mn, Mo [...] Read more.
Agronomic fortification with microelement as well as macronutrients has been used in recent years with increasing frequency to improve the nutritional quality of plant products for human consumption. Here the influence of pre-harvest foliar micronutrients fertilization (Micro+) including B, Cu, Fe, Mn, Mo and Zn compared to control (Micro−) on mineral profiles of raw and minimally processed potatoes of cv. Bellini was investigated. The mineral profile was analyzed on raw tubers at harvest and on minimally processed potatoes after 0 and 12 days of storage at 4 ± 1 °C. Preliminary results showed that micronutrients fertilization improved mineral composition of raw potatoes, through an increase in tuber concentrations of Fe (+70%) and Zn (+27%), but also of N (+23%), and Mn (+18%). The increased concentrations of minerals in micro-fertilized raw potatoes led to a better concentration in micro-fertilized minimally processed potatoes, even if some minerals were lost in processing, presumably due to skin removal. The reduction was particularly evident in both Micro– and Micro+ samples for Fe (−29%) and Ca (−17%). However foliar micronutrient fertilization markedly improved the Fe and Zn contribution that a 200 g serving of potatoes can give to current recommended nutrient intakes (RNIs) both in raw and minimally processed potatoes. Storage for 12 days did not alter the mineral profile of the tubers. Observations of the mineral profiles of the studied samples suggest that the application of foliar microelement-containing solutions was able to fortify both raw and minimally processed potatoes. Full article
Article
Foliar Application of Zn Alleviates Salt Stress Symptoms of Pak Choi Plants by Activating Water Relations and Glucosinolate Synthesis
Agronomy 2020, 10(10), 1528; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10101528 - 08 Oct 2020
Viewed by 582
Abstract
Several studies have related the application of micronutrients such as zinc, iron and molybdenum with alleviation of stress symptoms in horticultural plants. However, there are few studies that correlate the microelements with water relations. The main objective of this study was to determine [...] Read more.
Several studies have related the application of micronutrients such as zinc, iron and molybdenum with alleviation of stress symptoms in horticultural plants. However, there are few studies that correlate the microelements with water relations. The main objective of this study was to determine the effect of the foliar application of Zn on pak choi (Brassica campestris, L.) plants grown under saline conditions. When plants were grown in a nutrient solution containing 0 or 80 mM NaCl, shoot biomass was greatly decreased, while, in a separate experiment, Zn toxicity was observed when it was applied at concentrations above 50 µM as a foliar spray. In a third experiment, low Zn applications, mainly 25 µM, enhanced parameters such as gas exchange, biomass and glucosinolates synthesis in plants grown under saline conditions (80 mM NaCl). Also, Zn application provoked a rise in membrane integrity and decreased oxidative damage in root cells. In conclusion, Zn application decreased oxidative damage and increased the content of glucosinolates, which could act as important signals to improve water uptake and transport and, as a consequence, alleviate salinity stress in pak choi plants. Full article
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Article
Stomata and Xylem Vessels Traits Improved by Melatonin Application Contribute to Enhancing Salt Tolerance and Fatty Acid Composition of Brassica napus L. Plants
Agronomy 2020, 10(8), 1186; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10081186 - 13 Aug 2020
Cited by 13 | Viewed by 1169
Abstract
Salinity stress is a limiting factor for the growth and yield quality of rapeseed. The potentiality of melatonin (MT; 0, 25, 50, and 100 µM) application as a seed priming agent in mediating K+/Na+ homeostasis and preventing the salinity stress [...] Read more.
Salinity stress is a limiting factor for the growth and yield quality of rapeseed. The potentiality of melatonin (MT; 0, 25, 50, and 100 µM) application as a seed priming agent in mediating K+/Na+ homeostasis and preventing the salinity stress mediated oxidative damage and photosynthetic inhibition was studied in two rapeseed cultivars. We found that 50 µM MT treatment imparted a very prominent impact on growth, metabolism of antioxidants, photosynthesis, osmolytes, secondary metabolites, yield, and fatty acids composition. Days required for appearance of first flower and 50% flowering were decreased by MT application. Exogenous MT treatment effectively decreased the oxidative damage by significantly declining the generation of superoxide and hydrogen peroxide under saline and non-saline conditions, as reflected in lowered lipid peroxidation, heightened membrane stability, and up-regulation of antioxidant enzymes (catalase, superoxide dismutase, and ascorbate peroxidase). Furthermore, MT application enhanced the chlorophyll content, photosynthetic rate, relative water content, K+/Na+ homeostasis, soluble sugars, and proline content. Moreover, MT application obviously improved the oil quality of rapeseed cultivars by reducing glucosinolates, saturated fatty acids (palmitic and arachidic acids), and enhancing unsaturated fatty acids (linolenic and oleic acids except erucic acid were reduced). Yield related-traits such as silique traits, seed yield per plant, 1000 seeds weight, seed oil content, and yield biomass traits were enhanced by MT application. The anatomical analysis of leaf and stem showed that stomatal and xylem vessels traits are associated with sodium chloride tolerance, yield, and seed fatty acid composition. These results suggest the supportive role of MT on the quality and quantity of rapeseed oil yield. Full article
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Article
Betaine Hydrochloride Treatment Affects Growth and Phenylpropanoid Accumulation in Tartary Buckwheat (Fagopyrum tataricum) Seedlings under Salt Stress
Agronomy 2020, 10(6), 906; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10060906 - 25 Jun 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 712
Abstract
Betaine is one of the most competitive compounds that accumulate in different cellular compartments to adjust osmotic balance. Among the various stressors, salinity stress often leads to osmotic and ionic stress in plants, either increasing or decreasing certain secondary plant metabolites. In this [...] Read more.
Betaine is one of the most competitive compounds that accumulate in different cellular compartments to adjust osmotic balance. Among the various stressors, salinity stress often leads to osmotic and ionic stress in plants, either increasing or decreasing certain secondary plant metabolites. In this study, different concentrations of NaCl, betaine, and combined NaCl and betaine were used in time-course experiments to investigate growth pattern variation and accumulation of phenylpropanoid compounds in buckwheat sprouts. A significant increase in growth was observed with the application of 0.1–1.0 mM betaine. Although overall, the total phenylpropanoid compounds were lower compared to the control, the sole application of 50 mM NaCl and 1.0 mM betaine especially enhanced the accumulation of some of these compounds in comparison to others. Betaine application at lower concentrations was found to enhance the growth of buckwheat sprouts slightly. The results of this study show that phenylpropanoid content did not increase significantly in any of the treatments. However, it was proven that the phenylpropanoid biosynthetic pathway is stimulated under abiotic stress, resulting in a higher accumulation of various phenylpropanoid compounds. This suggests that the level of accumulation of phenylpropanoid compounds due to abiotic stress may be species-dependent. Full article
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Article
Evaluation of the Effects of the Application of Glauconitic Fertilizer on Oat Development: A Two-Year Field-Based Investigation
Agronomy 2020, 10(6), 872; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10060872 - 18 Jun 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 931
Abstract
This study explores the fertilizer potential of glauconitic soil by monitoring its impact on the growth of plants during the second growing season after application. Our study documents a higher growth of oats (Avena sativa) in glauconitic amended soil compared to [...] Read more.
This study explores the fertilizer potential of glauconitic soil by monitoring its impact on the growth of plants during the second growing season after application. Our study documents a higher growth of oats (Avena sativa) in glauconitic amended soil compared to that recorded with the control sample at the end of a 97-day-long experiment. Concentrations of nutrients (K, P, ammonium, Ca, Mg) and pH of the soil increase sharply in the first growing season and mildly thereafter, after an initial concentration of 200 g·m−2 glauconite (equivalent to 2 t·ha−1). The pH of the glauconitic-amended soil increases from an initial 6.0 to 6.34 during the second season. Organic matter and nitrates decrease in the soil mixture at the end of the second growing season, while the exchangeable ammonium increases. Organic acids promote the mobility and bioavailability of nutrients in the soil. Glauconitic soil is particularly effective for weakly acidic soils with a low moisture content. The steady increase in total yield and plant height, and the slow-release of nutrients during the second growing season indicates that glauconitic soil can be an effective and eco-friendly fertilizer. Full article
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Article
Early Season Foliar Iron Fertilization Increases Fruit Yield and Quality in Pomegranate
Agronomy 2020, 10(6), 832; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10060832 - 12 Jun 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 696
Abstract
Early season foliar fertilization with different nutrients is a promising tool in pomegranate grown in poor, high pH soils. The effects of foliar fertilization with FeSO4 and the synthetic chelate Fe(III)-EDDHA (Fe(III)-ethylendiaminedi(o-hydroxyphenylacetate)) on fruit yield and physicochemical characteristics were assessed in a [...] Read more.
Early season foliar fertilization with different nutrients is a promising tool in pomegranate grown in poor, high pH soils. The effects of foliar fertilization with FeSO4 and the synthetic chelate Fe(III)-EDDHA (Fe(III)-ethylendiaminedi(o-hydroxyphenylacetate)) on fruit yield and physicochemical characteristics were assessed in a two-season field trial. Fertilizers were sprayed at full bloom and one month later, using Fe concentrations of 1.3 and 2.6 mM for FeSO4 and 1.1 and 2.1 mM for the Fe-chelate. Both doses of FeSO4 and the higher chelate dose increased leaf Fe concentrations and fruit yield, with the best results being observed with 2.6 mM FeSO4 (20–31% increases in yield). On the other hand, leaf N, P, K, Ca, and Mn concentrations were not affected by foliar Fe fertilization. The only treatment that increased the number of fruits per tree, aril juice content and juice total soluble solids and decreased juice total acidity in both seasons was 2.6 mM FeSO4. Both FeSO4 doses caused consistent increases in the maturity index and total sugars in juice, along with minor decreases in juice total phenolic compounds. The antioxidant activity in juice was slightly decreased by 2.6 mM FeSO4. In conclusion, early season foliar Fe fertilization had positive effects on pomegranate yield and quality, with FeSO4 being better than Fe(III)-EDDHA. Full article
Article
Grain Endogenous Selenium and Moderate Salt Stress Work as Synergic Elicitors in the Enrichment of Bioactive Compounds in Maize Sprouts
Agronomy 2020, 10(5), 735; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy10050735 - 20 May 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 851
Abstract
Salt stress and selenium are known to elicitate the production of plant secondary metabolites with antioxidant properties. On this basis, maize grains obtained from mother plants fertilized or not fertilized with selenium were sprouted at different levels of salinity (0, 25, and 50 [...] Read more.
Salt stress and selenium are known to elicitate the production of plant secondary metabolites with antioxidant properties. On this basis, maize grains obtained from mother plants fertilized or not fertilized with selenium were sprouted at different levels of salinity (0, 25, and 50 mM NaCl) to evaluate the effects on the sprout yield, inorganic and organic Se species, minerals, and secondary metabolites, as revealed by a metabolomics analysis. Grain endogenous selenium (135 mg kg−1 vs. 0.19 mg kg−1 of the non-enriched grain) and salinity affected the sprout yield and composition, with salinity having the greatest effect on secondary metabolites. Most of the Se in sprouts was in an inorganic form, despite Se-enriched grains only containing organic Se. Some synergic effect was observed between Se and salinity. The best combination was obtained with Se-enriched grains sprouted at 25 mM NaCl, since this provided a good yield (not lower than in the untreated control), while sprout shoots were enriched in selenocystine and pro-nutritional semipolar compounds with antioxidant properties. Therefore, using grains from Se-fertilized crops and sprouting them under mild salt stress might represent a promising technique for improving the nutritional value of sprouts. Full article
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Review

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Review
Biostimulant-Treated Seedlings under Sustainable Agriculture: A Global Perspective Facing Climate Change
Agronomy 2021, 11(1), 14; https://doi.org/10.3390/agronomy11010014 - 23 Dec 2020
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 1113
Abstract
The primary objectives of modern agriculture includes the environmental sustainability, low production costs, improved plants’ resilience to various biotic and abiotic stresses, and high sowing seed value. Delayed and inconsistent field emergence poses a significant threat in the production of agri-crop, especially during [...] Read more.
The primary objectives of modern agriculture includes the environmental sustainability, low production costs, improved plants’ resilience to various biotic and abiotic stresses, and high sowing seed value. Delayed and inconsistent field emergence poses a significant threat in the production of agri-crop, especially during drought and adverse weather conditions. To open new routes of nutrients’ acquisition and revolutionizing the adapted solutions, stewardship plans will be needed to address these questions. One approach is the identification of plant based bioactive molecules capable of altering plant metabolism pathways which may enhance plant performance in a brief period of time and in a cost-effective manner. A biostimulant is a plant material, microorganism, or any other organic compound that not only improves the nutritional aspects, vitality, general health but also enhances the seed quality performance. They may be effectively utilized in both horticultural and cereal crops. The biologically active substances in biostimulant biopreparations are protein hydrolysates (PHs), seaweed extracts, fulvic acids, humic acids, nitrogenous compounds, beneficial bacterial, and fungal agents. In this review, the state of the art and future prospects for biostimulant seedlings are reported and discussed. Biostimulants have been gaining interest as they stimulate crop physiology and biochemistry such as the ratio of leaf photosynthetic pigments (carotenoids and chlorophyll), enhanced antioxidant potential, tremendous root growth, improved nutrient use efficiency (NUE), and reduced fertilizers consumption. Thus, all these properties make the biostimulants fit for internal market operations. Furthermore, a special consideration has been given to the application of biostimulants in intensive agricultural systems that minimize the fertilizers’ usage without affecting quality and yield along with the limits imposed by European Union (EU) regulations. Full article
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