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Biotech Science

Nitrogen Fixing Bacteria That Can Colonize Most Plants Discovered 187

Zothecula writes "Synthetic crop fertilizers are a huge source of pollution. This is particularly true when they're washed from fields (or leach out of them) and enter our waterways. Unfortunately, most commercial crops need the fertilizer, because it provides the nitrogen that they require to survive. Now, however, a scientist at the University of Nottingham has developed what he claims is an environmentally-friendly process, that allows virtually any type of plant to obtain naturally-occurring nitrogen directly from the atmosphere." The process involves injecting a bacteria that colonizes the plant and fixes atmospheric nitrogen in exchange for a bit of sugar, similar to soybeans. Only this bacteria will readily colonize most any plant.
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Nitrogen Fixing Bacteria That Can Colonize Most Plants Discovered

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  • Re:Let me guess... (Score:5, Informative)

    by adminstring ( 608310 ) on Monday July 29, 2013 @10:01PM (#44419203)
    Let me read TFA... Azotic Technologies.
  • Re:Green apocalypse (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 29, 2013 @10:18PM (#44419297)

    Hardly -- you're overestimating the role of land plants in the ecosystem. Most nitrogen fixation is done by cyanobacteria in the oceans.

    Also, nitrogen fixation hasn't led to a depletion of nitrogen in the atmosphere, because there are whole families of denitrifying bacteria that make a living reducing nitrate back to N2 (a process which is much easier than going the other way).

  • by Jayfar ( 630313 ) on Monday July 29, 2013 @10:44PM (#44419441)

    Let me know if they ever figure out how to apply this bacteria to seed before planting or spraying after sprouting. Then they'll have something worth talking about.

    Er, that's exactly what is disussed in TFA:

    "The process that Cocking developed, based on his discovery, is known as N-Fix. It involves covering seeds in a non-toxic coating that contains the bacterium. As a seed sprouts and the plant grows, the bacterium enters through its roots, and ultimately ends up in every cell of the plant. This means that every one of those cells is capable of fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere – just like sugarcane does."

  • by Doubting Sapien ( 2448658 ) on Monday July 29, 2013 @11:03PM (#44419539)
    I think you guys are misunderstanding what is being accomplished here. Using nitrogen fixing bacteria instead of artificial fertilizer means you *DON'T* have excess nitrates leaching out into the environment. The bacteria acts locally - usually right at the roots of the plant where it has colonized in return for being fed with sugars by the host. It is a truly balanced symbiotic relationship that is self-regulating.
  • by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @12:43AM (#44419977)

    Farmers would never waste money on fertilizer that just gets washed away.

    It really isn't a flat out waste so much as an inefficiency. The more fertilizer you use, the higher your yield, but the lower the fertilizer uptake rate of the plant. To use a simplified example, if you apply a kilogram of fertilizer, a group of plants might take up .5kg, but if you apply 2kg, the plants might only uptake .9kg, which means that the plants are getting more nutrients overall but are using a smaller portion of what is applied as the applied amount rises.. Of course farmers don't spend time and money they don't have to on unnecessary fertilizer, it is just that efficiency drops as usage increases, which is why nutrient use efficiency research is important.

  • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @01:03AM (#44420061) Journal
    Currently about three billion pounds of KNO3 are made each year. Suppose the researcher's hopes come true and that is cut in half. That would mean only 1,500,000,000 pounds would be on the market each year. Of course, it's not just used for fertilizer, there are many other uses. But if you did replace all those other uses, there would only be enough KNO3 to make ten million bombs per year. Of course, horse stables are full of it, too - stale urine is potassium nitrate.

    You know why you can't take liquids on airplanes? Hydrogen peroxide and nail polish remover. If you mix the two correctly, you get a VERY powerful explosive . (If you mix them incorrectly you get dead. Don't try it. It's a great explosive for SUICIDE bombers.)

    Another frequently used and powerful explosive is aluminium powder. Yep, ground up tinfoil. Don't try that at home either, it might blow up while you're grinding it. Adding Parlon can help. Parlon is also known as Saran Wrap.

    Grind up ping pong balls, that modern gunpowder, called smokeless powder.

    So you see, to make any progress by banning stuff you would need to ban half the stuff in the grocery store. Oh, and don't forget to ban livestock, so everyone would have to be vegetarian. ( remember, where animals piss, potassium nitrate crystallizes.)
  • Re:Green apocalypse (Score:5, Informative)

    by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 ) on Tuesday July 30, 2013 @01:06AM (#44420075) Journal

    This is a key part of permaculture, using plants that establish such relationships to build soil mass. Members of the legume family, peas and beans, already do this. So do trees like Russian Olive. These plants are capable of demonstrating "weedy" like behavior in that they can land in places that have nothing, establish a toe hold and grow and build soil as they die over generations. So, if you're an environmentalist who is horrified that "icky algae" is being displaced by something new, you might hate these types of plants, but really, they are pioneering plants that build fertility. I spent a lot of time researching what types of plants with these characteristics would grow in my local area because I'm interested in building a "Food Forest". Look up some of Geoff Lawton's videos on the subject, it's fascinating stuff.

    The idea that something like this is a threat is kind of laughable. It would be an incredible boon. People are already purchasing bacteria and rubbing it into their seeds to give them a good start, but the bacteria only form the necessary symbiotic relationship on a small selection of plants.

    I'll be sharing this with some of the folks at the local community farm I'm involved with who know more about the subject than I and see what they make of it, that's for sure...

"To take a significant step forward, you must make a series of finite improvements." -- Donald J. Atwood, General Motors