Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Corn that fertilizes itself with Nitrogen Fixing bacteria.

This is a cool article in Science by Ed Young about a giant corn varietal in Sierra Mixe Mexico that grows in very poor soil, but actually fertilizes itself. There's a bacteria that grows around the roots that absorbs nitrogen from the air and provides it to the corn. The team of researchers led by Alan Bennett from UC Davis referred to this a "Nitrogen Fixing" which works just like roots absorbing nitrogen from the soil.
In this case, the soil is very poor quality, so the corn actually gathers nitrogen from the air (78% nitrogen for dry air).
One major disadvantage of this corn is that it takes 8 months to mature.
The benefits are many. In a linear world of farming, row crops are raise on big farms and the crop shipped off to marked (cities), which deplete the soil. So fertilizers are needed to replenish the soil to grow the next crop. The fertilizers (mainly phosphate and nitrogen) end up running off into the water ways and result in massive ecological damage such as algae blooms and red tide.
Because fertilizers are expensive to buy, and expensive to apply, farmers continue to do a better job with fertilizers. (Other factors like urbanization, turf grass and golf course are taking over lead positions in pollution generation.)   However, linear systems in farming are non-sustainable, broken systems, compared to Regenerative Farming approaches that use non-til and corp rotations to restore the quality of the soil.
To commercialize this "nitrogen fixing" cereal crop requires some improvements, new varietals (sexual reproduction) or genetically engineered (GMO crops). The intellectual Property (IP) of such crops will be important. Profits and the capitalist system at work, availability to the people and countries that need it, and the property rights protections that make IP work are just a few important ingredients in the dissemination of new technology -- in this case, new crops.

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