Nitrogen-fixing genes could help grow more food using fewer resources
Scientists have transferred a collection of genes into plant-colonizing bacteria that let them draw nitrogen from the air and turn it into ammonia, a natural fertilizer.
The work could help farmers around the world use less man-made fertilizers to grow important food crops like wheat, corn, and soybeans.
The group of scientists, including two from Washington State University, published the study “Control of nitrogen fixation in bacteria that associate with cereals” late last month in Nature Microbiology.
“There’s a growing interest in reducing the amount of fertilizer used in agriculture because it’s expensive, has negative environmental impacts, and takes a lot of energy to make,” said John Peters, Director of WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry and a co-author on the paper. “There’s a huge benefit to developing ways to increase the contributions of biological nitrogen fixation for crop production around the world.”
How legumes get nitrogen
The team’s research helps share a symbiotic benefit found in legume crops, which farmers have relied on for centuries to naturally enrich the soil.
Legume crops, such as chickpeas and lentils, require significantly less fertilizer than other crops, because they’ve developed a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that grow within their root tissues.
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