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Will atmospheric nitrogen replace fertilizers?

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N-Fix, a process developed in the UK, is touted as the next agricultural revolution. It would give cultivated plants the opportunity to use atmospheric nitrogen, and thus to dispense with fertilizers. There is no need for chemical combinations or genetic manipulation: it would be enough to introduce the good bacteria into the seeds. And innovation would be commercialized in three years. Amazing…

Researchers at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom claim to have developed a method of plant fertilization that is simple, effective and completely natural. According to these scientists, very optimistic, it could apply to almost all plants of agricultural interest in the world and allow, more or less, to forget the use of chemical fertilizers .

The nitrogen  is an essential nutrient in the  growth of plants , but these are not able to fix gaseous form. They assimilate it in the form of nitrates, present in the soil thanks to bacteria and fungi . Some plants, such as legumes, have found a way to secure the services of fixing bacteria nitrogenby hosting them in their root nodules. But many plants, including cereals , have to pump nitrates from the earth . In intensive crops, the use of  fertilizers  is necessary to compensate for the limited amount of nitrogenmineral in soils. But the team at  Nottingham ‘s  Center for Crop Nitrogen Fixation  has apparently developed a method that allows plants to directly assimilate atmospheric nitrogen, which makes up 78% of thesurrounding air.

The team, led by researcher Edward Cocking, exploited a bacterium capable of using atmospheric nitrogen . Discovered in sugar cane , it is able to get inside the cells of the plant. According to their research, this  micro-organism would do the same with most cultivated plants.

Symbiosis between the plant and the bacteria

How is he doing? The authors of this process called N-Fix, which should be marketed by the company  Azotic Technologies , are hardly prolix in detail. The technique involves injecting the bacteria directly into the seed. Inserting into the cells of the host , they would give them the ability to fix nitrogen from the air. Like the zooxanthellae algae, which is installed in a coral cell and nourishes its host through photosynthesis , the N-Fix process leads to a symbiosis between the bacteria and the cell. One finds refuge and nutrients, the other can fix nitrogen from the air.

If it is indeed applicable to all agricultural crops, this method is enough to revolutionize practices. It would significantly reduce  soil pollution to nitrates , now considered the major cause of pollution of large underground water reservoirs. Fertilizers are nutrients for plants, but they are also consumed by micro-organisms (both bacteria and  fungi ). They promote the production of organic materialsthat release at their death quantity of nitrogen in the form of nitrates. These, extremely soluble in water, infiltrate and pollute  groundwater. The nitrate content of nappes normally varies from 0.1 to 1 mg per liter of water, but it often now exceeds 50 mg per liter, a limit for drinking water.

Still, it will be necessary to learn more about the process, its effectiveness and its cost. The company Azotic Technologies claims to start soon trials in the field, and intends to market these seeds in two to three years.

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