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New technology allows crops to take nitrogen from the atmosphere, lessening dependence on fertilizers

The technology could have widespread implications for the agriculture industry.

The technology could have widespread implications for the agriculture industry.

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    Cheryl Santa Maria
    Digital Reporter

    Friday, July 26, 2013, 4:50 PM -

    Plants rely on nitrogen fixation to grow. The process involves converting nitrogen into ammonia and while some plants can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, many get it from the soil with the help of fertilizers.

    Now, new technology could lessen farmers' dependence on environmentally-damaging plant foods.

    Professor Edward Cocking of the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Crop Nitrogen Fixation has developed a way to inject nitrogen-fixing bacteria into a plant's root cells, which could, in theory provide every cell in a plant with the ability to perform nitrogen fixation.

    This could have major implications for the agriculture industry. It could greatly reduce -- or even eliminate -- widespread use of synthetic fertilizers.

    According to a recent study by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology UK, the annual environmental toll of using nitrogen-based fertilizers is $92 - $430 billion U.S. per year in Europe alone.

    "Helping plants to naturally obtain the nitrogen they need is a key aspect of World Food Security," Cocking said in a statement.

    "The world needs to unhook itself from its ever increasing reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertilizers produced from fossil fuels with its high economic costs, its pollution of the environment and its high energy costs." 

    According to Cocking, the technology -- dubbed N-Fix -- can be applied to every crop on the planet.

    "N-Fix has the power to transform agriculture, while at the same time offering a significant cost benefit to the grower through the savings that they will make in the reduced costs of fertilisers," he adds.

    Cocking's team is working to have the product approved in UK, Europe, USA, Canada and Brazil.

    N-Fix could be commercially available in as little as two years.

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