Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Create Plants that Make their Own Fertilizer

August 28, 2013

Washington University biologists led by Himadri Pakrasi are working on a project that will engineer tiny nitrogen-fixing devices within photosynthetic cells. Working through a grant by the joint National Science Foundation and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council UK project "Ideas Lab", the team plans to develop the synthetic biology tools needed to excise the nitrogen fixation system in one species of cyanobacterium (a phylum of green bacteria formerly considered to be algae) and paste it into a second cyanobacterium that does not fix nitrogen.

Pakrasi said, "Ultimately what we want to do is take this entire nitrogen-fixation apparatus - which evolved once and only once - and put it in plants. Because of the energy requirements of nitrogen fixation, we want to put it in chloroplasts, because that's where the energy-storing ATP molecules are produced." The overall goal, in effect, is to convert all crops, not just legumes, into nitrogen fixers.

For more details about this project, read the news release available at: http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/25585.aspx.