Developing plants that can produce their own nitrogen

There soon may be a more sustainable way to provide crops with the nitrogen boost they need, thanks to the University of Guelph.

Researchers are studying ways to help plants produce their own all-important nitrogen.

“A plant must have nitrogen to grow, but it can’t produce the essential element on its own,” says Prof. Manish Raizada, Department of Plant Agriculture. “This is why we feed agricultural crops nitrogen fertilizer.”

But nitrogen fertilizers are manufactured through the burning of huge amounts of fossil fuel, and about 50 per cent of nitrogen fertilizer used on corn is wasted, either leaching into groundwater or turning into greenhouse gases, he says.

Specific microbes in plants can convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into plant food, so Raizada’s team is feeding plants these beneficial microbes.

Ultimately, he envisions a time when seeds coated with probiotic microbes and microbial sprays for soil could become commercial products. The researchers are also interested in exploring whether these microbes can make fertilizer on their own.