Restoring soil health: Synthetic fertilizer use could be cut, nutrients restored with GMO bacteria

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[A recent study] shows how genetically modified soil micro-organisms can help restore nutrients in the soil to increase crop yield.

[R]esearchers have used the diazotroph Azotobacter chroococcum, which is commonly found in neutral or basic soils. To improve the nitrogen-fixing ability of the bacterium the scientists modified the genes involved in the nitrogen-fixing mechanism of the bacteria. Knocking out a part of the negative regulatory gene nifL while simultaneously expressing the gene nifA, a positive regulatory gene.

Conducting experiments with wheat inoculated in the modified bacteria, in pots as well as the field, the researchers observed that the yield increased by almost 60% compared to the control crops. When urea was introduced to the soil, as it would be through fertilizers in a field, the researchers displayed that the inoculated wheat used ~85kg less urea than the usual ~257 kg urea per hectare. Additionally, there was no negative impact seen on the other soil microbiota due to the presence of the genetically modified Azotobacter chroococcum.

In India, wheat is cultivated in ~27 million hectares. Using these bacteria as biofertilizer, millions of rupees can be saved by cutting down on urea consumption, while the detrimental environmental effects of synthetic fertilizers can also be reduced.

[Editor’s note: Read the full study]

Read full, original post: Strengthening soil microbes to replace fertilizers

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