Monday, 13 May 2013

Strengthening legumes to tackle fertilizer pollution

e! Science News reports on research which shows that by boosting the nitrogen-fixing capacity of leguminous crops such as peas and beans, the environmental impacts of using artificial nitrogen fertilisers can be reduced.
 
Legumes use iron in the soil to carry out a complex chemical process called nitrogen fixation, which collects atmospheric nitrogen and converts it into organic forms that help the plant grow. When the plant dies, the excess nitrogen is released back into to the soil to help the next crop.
But often legumes are grown in areas with iron-depleted soil, which limits their nitrogen fixation. That's where research can lend a hand. The research team has created the world's first model for how iron is transported in the plant's root nodule to trigger nitrogen fixation. This is the first step in modifying the plants to maximize iron use.

"The long-term goal is to help sustainable agriculture practices and further diminish the environmental damage from overuse of nitrogen fertilizers," said Manuel Gonzalez-Guerrero, lead author of the paper from the Technical University of Madrid (UPM). "This can be done by maximizing the delivery of essential metal oligonutrients to nitrogen-fixing rhizobia."

Read more here.