A new study led by scientists at Washington University in St. Louis Louis has shown that it is possible to modify plants in order for them to create their own fertilizer. This breakthrough could have a revolutionary effect on agriculture and could help billions of people.

The study, led by Himadri Pakrasi and Maitrayee Bhattacharyya-Pakrasi, was recently published in the mBio magazine.

The traditional method of creating fertilizer is costly and inefficient, but it is based on nitrogen, by far the most abundant element in the atmosphere.
According to Phys, researchers have modified bacteria that can use the gas found in the atmosphere. The process known as “fixing” nitrogen and it is an important step towards changing plants that can do the same.

“Cyanobacteria are the only bacteria that have a circadian rhythm,” Pakrasi said. These bacteria photosynthesize during the day, turning the sunlight into chemical energy that is used as fuel. At night, they will start the “fixing” nitrogen process after removing a large portion of oxygen created during photosynthesis.

The team of researches took some genes from Cyanothece, responsible for this day-night mechanism, and mixed them in another cyanobacteria called Synechocystis. This way, it could take the nitrogen out of the air.

The next step for the research team is to determine the details of the process and to see exactly which genes are needed to for the “fixing” nitrogen process. Then, collaboration with botanists will be critical to applying this method to plants. If they will succeed, we should expect important changes in agriculture all around the world.

Read full study here

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