New Research Focuses On Creating Plants That Make Their Own Fertilizer

As growers work to keep the right amount of nitrogen in fields, new research being conducted by biologists at Washington University in St. Louis may help with that effort. In fact, Himadri Pakrasi’s team is excited by the project they are undertaking.


If the group succeeds, the chemical apparatus for nitrogen fixation will be miniaturized, automated, and relocated within the plant so nitrogen is available when and where it is needed — and only then and there.

“That would really revolutionize agriculture,” said Pakrasi, PhD, the Myron and Sonya Glassberg/Albert and Blanche Greensfelder Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences, and director of the International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability (I-CARES) at Washington University in St. Louis. 

Although there is plenty of nitrogen in the atmosphere, atmospheric nitrogen is not in a form plants can use. Atmospheric nitrogen must be “fixed,” or converted into compounds that make the nitrogen available to plants. 

Pakrasi thinks it should be possible to design a better nitrogen-fixing system. His idea is to put the apparatus for fixing nitrogen into plant cells, the same cells that hold the apparatus for capturing the energy in sunlight.

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