Crop Biotech Update

US and UK Scientists Work to Design Crops of the Future

August 28, 2013

Four teams of researchers from the United States and the United Kingdom were awarded more than $12 million to change current farming methods by designing crops that will thrive without costly and polluting artificial fertilizers.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) in the US and UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) made the awards following an 'Ideas Lab' focusing on new approaches to deal with the challenges of nitrogen in the growing global food demand. By 2015, more than 190.4 million tons of nitrogen will be needed to supply the world's food. Farms rely on great quantities of industrially-produced, nitrogen-rich fertilizer to ensure crop yields, but the practice comes with trade-offs as they are costly and use vast amounts of fossil fuel. They also generate environmental problems, degrade soils and produce runoffs into rivers polluting fresh waters and coastal zones.

"The reliance of artificial nitrogen fertilizers for food crop production and their damaging environmental effects are in many ways underestimated. Fortunately, there are scientists paying attention to how these artificial fertilizers can be replaced by abundant atmospheric nitrogen," said John Wingfield, NSF's assistant director for Biological Sciences.

The four Ideas Lab projects are:

  • Nitroplast: A light-driven, synthetic nitrogen-fixing organelle
  • Oxygen-tolerant nitrogenase
  • Engineering synthetic symbiosis between plant and bacteria to deliver nitrogen to crops
  • Designing nitrogen fixing ability in oxygenic photosynthetic cells

For more details about these projects, read the NSF news release available at: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=128878.