PerspectivePlant Science

Future Prospects for Cereals That Fix Nitrogen

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Science  22 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6041, pp. 416-417
DOI: 10.1126/science.1209467

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Nitrogen availability is limiting to plant growth and has long been overcome through applications of synthetic nitrogen-rich fertilizer. This has revolutionized crop yield and food production worldwide, but at substantial economic and environmental cost (fixed N2; a $100 billion per year global industry and environmental nitrogen pollution). Indeed, in April, the Edinburgh Declaration on Reactive Nitrogen was the most recent call for global action to address this source of nitrogen pollution. At the same time, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation convened a small meeting of international researchers to assess the way forward in reducing dependence on fertilizers through engineering crop plants that “fix” nitrogen themselves to sustain their growth and yield. The discussions of recent advances indicate that there are indeed viable options to achieve this goal.