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Brazil-UK partnership to improve energy and food security through nitrogen fixation

Cane in field (c) James Hutton Institute
“The production of fertilisers takes up about 2% of the world’s energy supply. At the same time, they pollute our groundwater and are a major source of greenhouse gases, so it makes sense to reduce fertiliser input for food production.

Scientists in Brazil and the UK are joining forces to help solve urgent food and energy security issues in South America's most populous country, by establishing a virtual centre that will investigate how to reduce the use of fertilisers and engineer nitrogen fixation - a biological process essential for all forms of life on the planet – in food and energy crops.

The project, led in the UK by the John Innes Centre and including researchers based at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee, will carry out world-class research on biological nitrogen fixation to increase scientific knowledge, with the aim of introducing changes in agricultural practices in Brazil.

Professor Euan James, from the James Hutton Institute’s Ecological Sciences group, said: “Nitrogen is one of the essential building blocks of life as we know it. It amounts to about 79% of the air we breathe, but the vast majority of living organisms cannot access nitrogen directly, so it has to be made available to them, or ‘fixed’, by micro-organisms.

“The production of fertilisers takes up about 2% of the world’s energy supply. At the same time, they pollute our groundwater and are a major source of greenhouse gases, so it makes sense to reduce fertiliser input for food production.

“The Brazil-UK Nitrogen Fixation Centre aims to improve soil and increase current levels of crop production in Brazil, reducing the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers, costly in monetary and environmental terms, through research leading to selection of superior plant and root microorganisms for specific environments.”

Professor James also explained that a longer-term goal of the Centre is to investigate mechanisms of interaction between nitrogen-fixing microbes and food and energy crops, which will provide data for the worldwide aim of developing nitrogen fixation associated with cereals.

The initiative is jointly funded by the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and two Brazilian institutions – the Council of the State Funding Agencies (CONFAP) and the National Council of Technological and Scientific Development (CNPq) – with a £1.3m grant, to allow collaboration of leading Brazilian experts with the UK’s foremost research groups in nitrogen fixation, synthetic biology, microscopy and analysis.

Besides the John Innes Centre and the James Hutton Institute, partners of the project include the University of Oxford, and IBERS, Aberystwyth.

More information from: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).


Printed from /news/brazil-uk-partnership-improve-energy-and-food-security-through-nitrogen-fixation on 25/05/19 10:43:36 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.