Maren Friesen, Michigan State University, said: "Rediscovering this bacterium, or ones with similar properties, would be a game-changer. It contains an unusual system for fixing nitrogen in the presence of oxygen, which could be a missing piece in the puzzle for creating nitrogen-fixing plants."
In nature, the reaction that fixes atmospheric nitrogen into a biologically usable form requires an enzyme called nitrogenase. The enzyme is inhibited by oxygen, rendering it useless in the normal oxygenated cells of plants. While some organisms can fix nitrogen, they have to have special adaptations to limit oxygen. However, the lost bacterium was reported to have a unique nitrogenase that could fix nitrogen in oxygen-rich environments, eliminating the requirement for oxygen limitation. This could be extremely useful in the development of nitrogen-fixing plants.
Maren Friesen will collaborate with Bill Rutherford and Martin Buck, from Imperial College London, in the hope of finding the original bacterial strain, as well as new oxygen-tolerant, nitrogen-fixing strains, in these seemingly inhospitable environments. The team will then study the genetics and biochemistry of these strains with an eye towards transferring oxygen-tolerant nitrogenase into plants.
$1.89M for a synthetic intracellular fertiliser factory for plants
This project aims to design and build a synthetic biological module that could work inside a cell to perform the function of fixing nitrogen.
Some photosynthetic bacteria (cyanobacteria) are able to fix nitrogen using solar energy via specialised cellular machinery. The scientists hope to re-engineer this machinery so that it can be transferred into a new host bacterial chass
|Contact: Chris Melvin|
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council