Bacteria instead of petroleum-based fertilizers, the new frontier of agriculture

A new study proposes an ecological alternative to replace chemical fertilizers in agriculture with strains of bacteria

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The excessive use of chemical fertilizers in agriculture is one of the main causes of the pollution of soils destined for agricultural activities and of their acidification, as well as of groundwater and, last but not least, of the atmosphere. Their impact is so high that more and more researchers are working on them alternatives that can make up for these chemicals in the long run without destroying our biodiversity. Among these, a recent study has modified the mutant strains of bacteria which, by binding to the roots of rice plants, are able to supply them with the right amount of nitrogen they need.

It is about the Azotobacter vinelandii bacteria which, by means of a simple genetic editing, can be used as biofertilizers to transfer nitrogen into the plant and fix it according to its needs, i.e. how much each crop needs and is able to absorb, without excess, unlike what happens with normal chemical fertilizers that are excessively distributed in the fields, then poured into rivers, in the oceans and throughout the ecosystem.

However, the Azotobacter vinelandii strains the researchers worked on are not genetically modified organisms precisely because the team did not want to incur restrictions of any kind on their use in agriculture.

The modification we have made does not bring any transgene into the genome of this bacterium. We modified it using indigenous genes "

explained Dr. Florence Mus, one of the co-authors of the new study that was published in the scientific journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

In fact, these bacteria are already found in nature in the rhizosphere, the portion of soil that surrounds the roots of some crops - such as soybeans - where there are many microorganisms that act as natural fertilizers and fix nitrogen when this is present in the soil even in minimal percentages. If they do not reveal the presence of nitrogen in the soil, the bacteria can instead fix the nitrogen gas, so it is important that the laboratory strains can always act, under any conditions. This is the goal that the researchers have set themselves.

Source: ASM Journal

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