Researchers at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom claim they have developed a major new technology which enables all of the world’s crops to take nitrogen from the air rather than from synthetic fertilizers.
Nitrogen fixation, the process by which nitrogen is converted to ammonia, is vital for plants to survive and grow. However, only a very small number of plants, most notably legumes (such as peas, beans, and lentils) have the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere with the help of nitrogen fixing bacteria. The vast majority of plants have to obtain nitrogen from the soil, and for most crops currently being grown across the world, this also means a reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.
Professor Edward Cocking, director of the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Crop Nitrogen Fixation, has developed a unique method of putting nitrogen-fixing bacteria into the cells of plant roots. His major breakthrough came when he found a specific strain of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in sugar cane which he discovered could intracellularly colonize all major crop plants. This ground-breaking development potentially provides every cell in the plant with the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. The implications for agriculture are enormous as this new technology can provide much of the plant’s nitrogen needs.