Biotech Updates

Bacteria Tracked Feeding Nitrogen to Nutrient-Starved Plants

April 22, 2015

Nitrogen is an important element for plant growth and abundant in the atmosphere, but is often absent in heavily farmed land. Scientists have looked for ways to safely and sustainably transfer nitrogen into the soil, and found that nitrogen-eating bacteria may be the answer.

An international team of researchers, including scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory has tracked nitrogen as soil bacteria pull it from the air and release it as plant-friendly ammonium. This process, called biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) was found to substantially promote growth in certain grass crops.

The scientists measured the effects of two BNF soil bacteria, Azospirillum brasilense and Herbaspirillum seropedicae, on growth of the grass Setaria viridis. The study shows the first direct evidence of BNF by tracking the presence of a nitrogen radiotracer as it was absorbed first by the bacteria and then moved through the plant. The results showed substantial increases in height, weight, and root length.

For more details about this research, read the news article at the Brookhaven Lab website.