Have you ever thought of air as the ultimate crop fertilizer? We haven’t either, but researchers at the University of Nottingham have developed a technology—termed nitrogen fixation—that allows plant to take nitrogen directly from the air. A special bacteria takes up nitrogen from the air and applies it to plant seeds as coating, enabling each plant cell to spontaneously ‘fix’ nitrogen. The new technology could be commercially available within the next couple of years and it has the potential to replace environmentally damaging fertilizers.
The nitrogen fixation process allows plants to convert nitrogen into ammonia. A small number of plants are able to do that naturally. The new technology, which has been developed by Professor Edward Cocking, Director of The University of Nottingham’s Centre for Crop Nitrogen Fixation, is based on nitrogen-fixing bacteria that is put into the cells of plant roots. He found special nitrogen-fixing bacteria in sugar cane which could colonize major crop plants, potentially revolutionize the agricultural industry and drastically reduce nitrogen pollution caused by nitrogen based fertilizers.
Professor Cocking says the process is not genetic modification nor bio-engineering. The bacteria fix nitrogen in a natural way and can be applied to the cells of plants via the seed. Seeds are coated with the bacteria which enable each cell to fix nitrogen.
The N-Fix technology has of great importance for agriculture, claims Dr Susan Huxtable, Director of Intellectual Property Commercialization at The University of Nottingham. The technology could be applied globally to all crops and could result in significant savings when it comes to fertilizers.
The technology was proven to work in the Azotic Technologies LTD laboratories-company that has been licensed by The University of Nottingham to develop and commercialize it. Azotic is conducting field trials and plans to seek regulatory approval for N-Fix.