Biotech Updates

Discovery in Legumes to Reduce Fertilizer Use, Aid Environment

March 5, 2010

Researchers at Stanford University led by molecular biologist Sharon Long have recently discovered a gene from a legume barrel medic that could be the key to nitrogen fixation. Mutant plants of barrel medic failed to produce healthy nodules on their roots. Further investigation showed that the mutant plants generated the proper precursor for the protein but the critical enzyme for processing that precursor into the final signal was missing. When supplied with the functional version of the gene, the mutant legumes began fixing nitrogen the same as normal ones.

"The rhizobium bacteria are a critical partner in whether that kind of extension of serviceable land can occur," Sharon Long said. "In order for us to take existing symbioses and help make them better, optimize them for being productive even when conditions start to deteriorate, tools such as understanding how to improve nitrogen fixing in legumes are crucial." The more efficient that legumes can be made and the wider the range of environments they can thrive in, the more they can help reduce the need for chemical nitrogen that runs off into water or sinks into the groundwater or decomposes into a gaseous form", Long added.

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