Arable News

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New technology could mean less reliance on fertiliser

ProfessorEdward Cocking, director of The University of Nottinghams Centre for CropNitrogen Fixation.

A major newtechnology has been developed by the University of Nottingham, which enablesall of the worlds crops to take nitrogen from the air rather than from fertilisers.


Nitrogen fixation, the process by which nitrogen is convertedto ammonia, is vital for plants to survive and grow. However, only a very smallnumber of plants, most notably legumes (such as peas, beans and lentils) havethe ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere with the help of nitrogenfixing bacteria. The vast majority of plants have to obtain nitrogen from thesoil, and for most crops currently being grown across the world, this alsomeans a reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.


ProfessorEdward Cocking, director of The University of Nottinghams Centre for CropNitrogen Fixation, has developed a unique method of putting nitrogen-fixingbacteria into the cells of plant roots. His major breakthrough came when hefound a specific strain of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in sugar cane which hediscovered could intra-cellularly colonise all major crop plants. Thisground-breaking development potentially provides every cell in the plant withthe ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. The implications for agriculture areenormous as this new technology can provide much of the plants nitrogen needs.

Speaking about the technology, which is known as N-Fix, Professor Cockingsaid: Helping plants to naturally obtain the nitrogen they need is a keyaspect of World Food Security. The world needs to unhook itself from its everincreasing reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertilisers produced from fossilfuels with its high economic costs, its pollution of the environment and itshigh energy costs. 

N-Fixis neither genetic modification nor bio-engineering. It is a naturallyoccurring nitrogen fixing bacteria which takes up and uses nitrogen from theair.  Applied to the cells of plants (intra-cellular) via the seed, itprovides every cell in the plant with the ability to fix nitrogen. Plant seedsare coated with these bacteria in order to create a symbiotic, mutually-beneficialrelationship and naturally produce nitrogen.

N-Fix is a natural nitrogen seed coating that provides a sustainable solutionto fertiliser overuse and nitrogen pollution. It is environmentally friendlyand can be applied to all crops. Over the last 10 years, The University ofNottingham has conducted a series of extensive research programmes which haveestablished proof of principal of the technology in the laboratory, growthrooms and glasshouses. 

Dr Susan Huxtable, director of Intellectual Property Commercialisation at TheUniversity of Nottingham, believes that the N-Fix technology has significantimplications for agriculture, she said: There is a substantial global marketfor the N-Fix technology, as it can be applied globally to all crops. N-Fix hasthe power to transform agriculture, while at the same time offering asignificant cost benefit to the grower through the savings that they will makein the reduced costs of fertilisers. It is a great example of how Universityresearch can have a world-changing impact.

The N-Fixtechnology has been licensed by The University of Nottingham to AzoticTechnologies to develop and commercialise N-Fix globally on its behalf for allcrop species.


PeterBlezard, CEO of Azotic Technologies added: Agriculture has to change and N-Fixcan make a real and positive contribution to that change. It has enormouspotential to help feed more people in many of the poorer parts of the world,while at the same time, dramatically reducing the amount of synthetic nitrogenproduced in the world.


The proof ofconcept has already been demonstrated. The uptake and fixation of nitrogen in arange of crop species has been proven to work in the laboratory and Azotic isnow working on field trials in order to produce robust efficacy data. This willbe followed by seeking regulatory approval for N-Fix initially in the UK,Europe, USA, Canada and Brazil, with more countries to follow. 


It isanticipated that the N-Fix technology will be commercially available within thenext two to three years.

  • Written by: Farmers Guide
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