New Technology Enables All Crops to Fix Nitrogen From Air

8/3/2013 7:00 AM

A major new technology has been developed by The University of Nottingham, which enables all crops to take nitrogen from the air rather than using expensive fertilizers.

Nitrogen fixation, the process by which nitrogen is converted to ammonia, is vital for plants to survive and grow. However, only a 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.

Most plants have to obtain nitrogen from the soil, and for most crops being grown across the world, this also means a reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.

Professor Edward Cocking, director of The University of Nottingham’s Centre for Crop Nitrogen Fixation, has developed a method of putting nitrogen-fixing bacteria into the cells of plant roots.

His breakthrough came when he found a specific strain of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in sugar cane that could intracellularly colonize all major crop plants. This development potentially provides every cell in the plant with the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen.

Speaking about the technology, which is known as “N-Fix,” Cocking said, “Helping plants to naturally obtain the nitrogen they need is a key aspect of world food security.”

N-Fix is neither genetic modification nor bio-engineering. It is a naturally occurring nitrogen fixing bacteria that takes up and uses nitrogen from the air. Applied to the cells of plants through the seed, it provides cells with the ability to fix nitrogen.

The N-Fix technology has been licensed by the university to Azotic Technologies Ltd to develop and commercialize N-Fix globally on its behalf for all crop species.

Azotic is now working on field trials. This will be followed by seeking regulatory approval for N-Fix initially in the UK, Europe, U.S., Canada and Brazil, with more countries to follow. It is anticipated the technology will be commercially available within the next two to three years.

Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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