Plants Getting Their Fix

photo credit: Estrella de Queso via photopin cc
photo credit: Estrella de Queso via photopin cc

Most plants are nitrogen junkies. Without a regular supply of this element from the soil they can’t grow, and farmers spread regular applications of artificial fertliser to supply their need. Unfortunately, overapplication of fertiliser can have negative environmental effects, such as dead zones in oceans and waterways, caused by fertiliser runoff.

But some plants, such as legumes, have evolved a strategy to create their own nitrogen by fixing it from the air with the help of bacteria living in their root nodules. If major crop plants could employ the same strategy, it would save billions of dollars a year spent in making, distributing and applying artificial fertlisers, and help conserve the environment. Now, thanks to Professor Edward Cocking and his team at The University of Nottingham’s Centre for Crop Nitrogen Fixation, they can.

Professor Cocking’s team discovered a strain of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in sugar-cane that can colonise all major crop plants, and have spent the last decade creating and testing a seed coating that introduces the bacteria early in the plant’s life. It’s a simple treatment that isn’t a genetic modification or bio-engineering.

Called N-Fix, this new method of fertilising our main food sources promises to be ground-breaking and could change the face of agriculture within the next decade. Its effectiveness has already been demonstrated in trial crops and commercial production is expected within two or three years.


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