Three teams of UK and USA researchers will begin a programme of novel research to revolutionise current farming methods by giving crops the ability to thrive without using costly, polluting manufactured fertilisers.
The three highly innovative projects include: searching the planet for a lost bacterium with special, sought-after properties; using synthetic biology to create a new intracellular machine allowing plants to produce fertiliser themselves; and engineering beneficial relationships between plants and microbes.
$8.86M of Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and US National Science Foundation (NSF) funding has been awarded following an 'Ideas Lab' to generate new approaches that address growing global food demand, which will need 190.4M tonnes of nitrogen-fertiliser by 2015.
Plants need nitrogen to grow. There is a lot of it in the atmosphere but it is mostly unusable. Atmospheric nitrogen needs to be 'fixed' - combined with other elements into a biologically usable form. Most arable farming therefore relies on industrially produced fertiliser to ensure crop yields that meet demand.
Producing artificial fertilisers is costly and uses vast amounts of fossil fuel. Fertiliser use also generates environmental problems such as the runoff of fertiliser into rivers and emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with a much greater global warming effect than carbon dioxide. This funding is aimed at generating innovative technological stepping stones that will reduce the need for fertiliser by enabling crops to fix their own nitrogen.
The three projects are:
$1.87M quest to solve the mystery of the lost bacteria
Unique bacteria, discovered in a German charcoal pit in the 90s, could hold the key to enabling plants to fix their own nitrogen. However, studies on this bacterium, which grows in hot toxic environments, stopped over a decade ago and the bu
|Contact: Chris Melvin|
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council