World changing technology enables crops to take nitrogen from the air

Jul 25, 2013

A major new technology has been developed by The University of Nottingham, which enables all of the world's crops to take nitrogen from the air rather than expensive and environmentally damaging fertilisers.

Nitrogen fixation, the process by which is converted to , 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 . His major breakthrough came when he found a specific strain of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in sugar-cane which he discovered could intracellularly colonise all major . This ground-breaking development potentially provides every cell in the plant with the ability to fix . The implications for agriculture are enormous as this new technology can provide much of the plant's nitrogen needs.

A leading world expert in nitrogen and , Professor Cocking has long recognised that there is a critical need to reduce caused by nitrogen based fertilisers. Nitrate pollution is a major problem as is also the pollution of the atmosphere by ammonia and oxides of nitrogen.

In addition, is a and also causes oxygen-depleted 'dead zones' in our waterways and oceans. A recent study estimates that that the annual cost of damage caused by nitrogen pollution across Europe is £60 billion—£280 billion a year.1

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Speaking about the technology, which is known as 'N-Fix', Professor Cocking said: "Helping plants to naturally obtain the nitrogen they need is a key aspect of World Food Security. The world needs to unhook itself from its ever increasing reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertilisers produced from fossil fuels with its high economic costs, its pollution of the environment and its high energy costs."

N-Fix is neither genetic modification nor bio-engineering. It is a naturally occurring nitrogen fixing bacteria which takes up and uses nitrogen from the air. Applied to the cells of plants (intra-cellular) via the seed, it provides every cell in the plant with the ability to fix nitrogen. Plant seeds are coated with these bacteria in order to create a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship and naturally produce nitrogen.

N-Fix is a natural nitrogen seed coating that provides a sustainable solution to fertiliser overuse and Nitrogen pollution. It is environmentally friendly and can be applied to all crops. Over the last 10 years, The University of Nottingham has conducted a series of extensive research programmes which have established proof of principal of the technology in the laboratory, growth rooms and glasshouses.

The University of Nottingham's Plant and Crop Sciences Division is internationally acclaimed as a centre for fundamental and applied research, underpinning its understanding of agriculture, food production and quality, and the natural environment. It also has one of the largest communities of plant scientists in the UK.

Dr Susan Huxtable, Director of Intellectual Property Commercialisation at The University of Nottingham, believes that the N-Fix technology has significant implications for agriculture, she said: "There is a substantial global market for the N-Fix technology, as it can be applied globally to all crops. N-Fix has the power to transform agriculture, while at the same time offering a significant cost benefit to the grower through the savings that they will make in the reduced costs of fertilisers. It is a great example of how University research can have a world-changing impact."

The N-Fix technology has been licensed by The University of Nottingham to Azotic Technologies Ltd to develop and commercialise N-Fix globally on its behalf for all crop species.

Peter Blezard, CEO of Azotic Technologies added: "Agriculture has to change and N-Fix can make a real and positive contribution to that change. It has enormous potential to help feed more people in many of the poorer parts of the world, while at the same time, dramatically reducing the amount of synthetic nitrogen produced in the world."

The proof of concept has already been demonstrated. The uptake and fixation of nitrogen in a range of crop species has been proven to work in the laboratory and Azotic is now working on field trials in order to produce robust efficacy data. This will be followed by seeking regulatory approval for N-Fix initially in the UK, Europe, USA, Canada and Brazil, with more countries to follow.

It is anticipated that the N-Fix technology will be commercially available within the next two to three years.

Explore further: New scientific review investigates potential influences on recent UK winter floods

More information: www.azotictechnologies.com/

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User comments : 21

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LagomorphZero
5 / 5 (9) Jul 25, 2013
Wow not a peep on this article, this is the biggest news I've ever heard!
Roland
2.8 / 5 (6) Jul 25, 2013
This is huge! Sell kochfertilizer.com, Agrium, CF Industries, Terra Nitrogen.
Also http://companylis...tilizer/
And this will reduce demand for NatGas. The Middle East is suffering from drought, but a boost like this could affect politics in Egypt & Syria, for example. And ending nitrate runoff is a big freebie.
manifespo
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 25, 2013
this is quite interesting. i wonder if it will take off soon...
RobZom Biotechy
5 / 5 (2) Jul 26, 2013
You guys make what I study more awesome!!!
Not that I'll be studying plant genetics (human genetic modifications for me please) - but reading this makes me so happy to know Biotechnology is, once again, a major contributor to the advance of the human race...:D
deatopmg
1.7 / 5 (11) Jul 26, 2013
How much fixed nitrogen is passed on to the host plant? Is it enough to make a significant difference? Will gene amplification be necessary before fertilization with N based can be eliminated?
Who will be the first to move the gene from the bacteria into crop plants? Monsanto?!!
Will the USDA (and the ammonia producers) do EVERYTHING in their power to make N-Fix appear to be useless, just like they did to methanol/C1 fertilization in the 90's (Nonomura & Benson, PNAS ~October 1992) [30 - 50% yield increase, quality improvement, and up to 50% reduction in water usage in follow-up work]?

It is developments like this that serial doomcasters, like Paul (and Anne) Ehrlich et al and their followers, never foresee.
Stop
5 / 5 (1) Jul 26, 2013
This is fantastic!
bg1
3.8 / 5 (4) Jul 26, 2013
I hope this works. If it does it will be big. How do ensure that the bacteria have the sugar available to get established in the roots? Will all seeds have to be prepared at a factory, or will these bacteria self-replicate with the plants without direct intervention?
210
2 / 5 (9) Jul 26, 2013
This is huge! Sell kochfertilizer.com, Agrium, CF Industries, Terra Nitrogen.
Also http://companylis...tilizer/
And this will reduce demand for NatGas. The Middle East is suffering from drought, but a boost.

Wha? But...they will STILL have the drought....see?
Gmr
1.8 / 5 (5) Jul 27, 2013
I'm suddenly reminded of Hal Clement's "The Nitrogen Fix"
Gmr
2 / 5 (6) Jul 27, 2013
Not mentioned in the article:
"Replaces around 60% of plant's nitrogen needs"
From Azotic Technology's website.

At that rate it's not a "rather" it's a reduction in reliance.
Shakescene21
4 / 5 (8) Jul 27, 2013
I agree that this seems to be an amazingly beneficial breakthrough. However, I wonder why nitrogen-fixing bacteria don't occur in nature, except in legumes and this sugar-cane example.

Is there some other penalty or disfunction that we don'y know about yet?
Caliban
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 27, 2013
I agree that this seems to be an amazingly beneficial breakthrough. However, I wonder why nitrogen-fixing bacteria don't occur in nature, except in legumes and this sugar-cane example.

Is there some other penalty or disfunction that we don'y know about yet?


Shakescene 21,

It makes me happy to see that at least one person who read the article was moved to ask the single relevant question.

Keep up the good work,,

Caliban
Gmr
3.3 / 5 (7) Jul 28, 2013
I agree that this seems to be an amazingly beneficial breakthrough. However, I wonder why nitrogen-fixing bacteria don't occur in nature, except in legumes and this sugar-cane example.

Is there some other penalty or disfunction that we don'y know about yet?

Same reason humans don't make vitamin C. It's something that's available in the environment, so if you use what's there, you use less energy and are more efficient at other things rather than making nutrients everyone else gets from around them for "cheaper."

Those who use nitrogen fixing bacteria tend to be plants in nitrogen-poor soils, which includes a number of adaptations for this lack (seems to occur in acidic/swampy soils) so you've got pitcher plants and Venus fly-traps that supplement it with animal nitrogen sources as well. Where providing your own nitrogen is a competitive advantage, it wins out - where it isn't, it loses because others are more efficient.
Shakescene21
1 / 5 (2) Jul 28, 2013
Good comment by Gmr (see below). He assumes that intensive agriculture requires much higher nitrogen levels than natural vegetation, especially after years of cultivation have depleted the soil. That seems reasonable...

"Same reason humans don't make vitamin C. It's something that's available in the environment, so if you use what's there, you use less energy and are more efficient at other things rather than making nutrients everyone else gets from around them for "cheaper."

Those who use nitrogen fixing bacteria tend to be plants in nitrogen-poor soils, which includes a number of adaptations for this lack (seems to occur in acidic/swampy soils) so you've got pitcher plants and Venus fly-traps that supplement it with animal nitrogen sources as well. Where providing your own nitrogen is a competitive advantage, it wins out - where it isn't, it loses because others are more efficient."

MikPetter
1 / 5 (3) Jul 28, 2013
On the face of it this could be a good thing and reduce reliance on other sources of N fertilzer. However, we are already overloading global systems with too much nitrogen I am wondering if this system will mean less N released? It could be so given the N is bacterially mediated in the plant rather than outside application but I would like to see some assessment of total lifecycle pathways of N. The other minor question I have is the potential persistance of the effect in target plants, In my neck of the woods we have a marine based nitrogen fixing blue green algae Lyngbya which is a bit of pest....mmm
Maggot_Soldier
not rated yet Jul 28, 2013
N-Ice
rwinners
2 / 5 (3) Jul 29, 2013
Who will own the patent?
SURFIN85
2.8 / 5 (5) Jul 29, 2013
This discovery does not mean that plants have any more resistance to pests or disease. It only means that a crop with this inoculation a crop will no longer have N as the limiting nutrient. That means that the growing crop will take up more of everything else it needs, and we arrive at needing some other element which is the new limiting nutrient. In a world where absurdities abound, where irrationality prevails, and living like there is no tomorrow while using up fossil resources.

What this means is that Agriculture, which displaces wildlife habitat and degrades ecosystem benefits while consuming nonrenewable energy and resources, will produce a few more pennies on the dollar for producers, degrading resource bases for the future, and extend by a few more months, the unsustainable and unreasonable demands of the global first world technocracy.

A real revolution would be a sustainable agricultural policy instead of the major world markets shipping beef across oceans to each other.
phantomlord
1 / 5 (2) Jul 30, 2013
This news sounds very good, but I wonder, do they consider that taking a lot of nitrogen from the atmosphere by the plants may have a negative impact?
NickAdams
not rated yet Aug 04, 2013
Anyway, with compare to GMO plants stuffed with chemicals, which are killing the bees, bumblebees and bats.


Varroa mite, other disease-carrying parasites, and possibly pesticides are killing the bees, not GMOs.
Gmr
2 / 5 (4) Aug 04, 2013
Teech2 (ironic name, I guess) - Interesting thing is that plants had the jump on insecticides before any human intervention - it's part of what gives tea its distinct flavor, and if I'm not mistaken it's what caffeine is for as well... many of the flavors we associate with a number of plants are also anti-insect-chemistry.