Peanuts, peas, and many types of beans are climate-friendly because they basically make their own fertilizer. They play host to a special class of microbes called nitrogen fixers that invade the root hairs of their host plants, forming knobby nodes and converting free nitrogen in the soil to ammonia... Most of the world’s biggest food crops—corn, wheat, rice—aren’t so hospitable to nitrogen-fixers. Which is why they require so much artificial fertilizer to grow.
Or, you could engineer a host of microbes that have all the nitrogen-fixing power of the peanut’s follicular friends, but with the ability to colonize the roots of any plant. Then you could paint that bacteria onto shelf-stable seeds and ship them anywhere in the world...On Thursday, German biochem giant Bayer announced it was joining forces with Ginkgo Bioworks, a Boston-based synthetic biology shop, to create a new venture to wean the world off fertilizers.
Ultimately, this group is trying to design a bacteria that combines nitrogen-fixing skills with seed coat strengths—it’s got to be able to survive without water for long periods of time and then activate as soon as it gets wet.
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