Biotech Updates

Biochemists Crack Nitrogen Fixation Code

September 25, 2013

Utah State University scientists led by biochemistry professor Lance Seefeldt have discovered new insights about nitrogen fixation, a complex and energy-intensive process that converts nitrogen into a form that humans, animals and plants can access. The research team has published two papers in the online Early Edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences to describe their findings. The team's experiments show that electron transfer precedes ATP hydrolysis, a process that has eluded researchers for decades.

In the second paper, the research team describes the mechanism for hydrogen formation during nitrogen fixation. There are two known processes that break nitrogen bonds to allow conversion, according to Seefeldt. The first is a natural, bacterial process, while the other is the man-made Häber-Bosch process, and the world's food supply currently depends equally on each of these. Seefeldt adds "The century-old Häber-Bosch process, used to make agricultural fertilizers, is energy-intensive and depends heavily on fossil fuels, Seefeldt says, so interest is high in harnessing and making more use of the cleaner, natural process."

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