NewsPlant Translational Biology

The nitrogen fix

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Science  16 Sep 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6305, pp. 1225-1227
DOI: 10.1126/science.353.6305.1225

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Summary

A handful of biologists is working to endow major crops with the ability to "fix" nitrogen from the air into a biochemically usable form, a talent that is currently limited to certain microbes—and is essential to life. Fixed nitrogen is a key ingredient in important biomolecules, including amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. And, for now, farmers have to laboriously supply it by applying fertilizer or planting legumes, which host nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots. Altering cereals to produce their own nitrogen would be a tour de force of biotechnology. But it could help solve two big problems: the overuse of artificial fertilizer, which can pollute aquifers or water bodies, and the shortage of fertilizer that plagues small farmers in the developing world.