Disruptive Technology for Nitrogen Fixation in agriculture

The nature has provided biological nitrogen fixation mechanism wherein microbes convert atmospheric N2 into NH3, that can be metabolized by most organisms including plants. The inorganic nitrogen compounds are used for biosynthesis of amino acids and proteins, nucleoside triphosphates and nucleic acids, that are essential to life on earth. On the other hand, industrial production of nitrogen is also, indirectly, relevant to the manufacture of all nitrogen chemical compounds including fertilizers, explosives, pharmaceuticals, and dyes etc.

Microbes known as diazotrophs (Azotobacter, archaea etc.) carry out natural nitrogen fixation in soil in leguminous crops. Nitrogen Fixation in agriculture Nitrogen requirement of other plants are met through inorganic nitrogen fertilizers that are industrially produced using Haber-Bosch Process. The use of nitrogen fertilizers in agriculture accounts for 57% of the nutrients applied[1] and is responsible for nitrogen pollution. For example, India consumes 17 million tons of nitrogen fertilizer annually of which only 33 % is taken up by plants. The remaining 67 % nitrogen leaches into the surrounding environment leading to adverse environmental impacts[2] and affecting the earth’s nitrogen balance.

Two patents granted recently to UK-based Azotic Technologies are (a) Novel Microorganisms and Their Use in Agriculture[3] and (b) Plant inoculation method[4]. The two patents form the basis of a disruptive technology, N-Fix® technology, can contribute significantly to reduce nitrogen pollution and increase yields in non-leguminous crops. N-Fix® technology is derived from a naturally occurring beneficial food grade bacterium Gluconacetobacter diazotrophicus (Gd). The technology enables plants to fix nitrogen from the air and replace up to 50 % of their nitrogen requirements thereby reducing the need for chemical N-fertilizer application. The Gd strain is capable for colonizing various crops including non-legumes intracellularly and provides a novel method of delivering Nitrogen to plants. The application is done via the seeds to create a symbiotic relationship enabling the plants to substitute nitrogen it normally takes up from the soil with atmospheric nitrogen. The bacterial strain works from within plant cells to fix nitrogen from root to leaf throughout the season. The Gd strain does not contain any toxins, is environmentally friendly and will help in reducing nitrogen pollution.

This ground-breaking nitrogen fixing technology is now registered and officially available in all 50 US states. Commercial sales on corn and soybean in the US has reduced the need for applied nitrogen fertilizer on average by 27% without impacting yield. In-furrow application of the technology in corn has showed an increase of 5-20%. The rice trials conducted in Asia have also yielded positive results. For example, in Vietnamese rice trials, a mean average yield increase of 20% was observed, whereas in Thailand and Philippines, the yield increase of 17% to 29% were observed. N-Fix® technology has been observed to be efficacious in economically important crops like corn, soybean, rice, wheat, and others and has shown potential of providing high yields in key crops coupled with nitrogen sustainability. It is ubiquitous to all crops and provides better economic return for farmers through reduced fertilizer costs and increased yields.

The industrial production and use of synthetic nitrogen-based fertilizers has become non-sustainable and needs to be replaced with better solutions to make farming sustainable and safe for environment. The use of climate smart technologies such as biologicals, biofertilizers and seed treatments etc. in agriculture is gaining momentum. Global agriculture needs to adopt innovative technologies and practices as going forward transparency will become key in various aspects of the food chain. Azotic’s N-Fix® is one such disruptive technology that can make agriculture more sustainable and ensure safety of environmental and human health.

The biological nitrogen fixation in non-leguminous crops will not only help global agriculture to feed an increasing population without adversely affecting the environment but also lead to efficient and sustainable farming practices to increase food supply while maintaining biodiversity. The global agriculture and food supply chain need more such technologies to help save our environment from adverse effects caused by un-sustainable practices that have creeped in while modernizing agricultural practices.


Author:

Connect with Authors at: agribusiness@sathguru.com

[1] Fertilizer Industry Handbook 2018 – Yara. https://www.yara.com/siteassets/investors/057-reports-and-presentations/other/2018/fertilizer-industry-handbook-2018-with-notes.pdf/
[2] We have breached the planetary limit for nitrogen. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/agriculture/when-n-means-noxious-59279
[3] Novel Microorganisms and Their Use in Agriculture. https://patents.google.com/patent/WO2017017440A1/en
[4] Plant inoculation method. https://patents.google.com/patent/WO2016016629A1/en

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