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UK-India link-up to tackle food security challenges through nitrogen fixation

Image by McKay Savage, London, UK (India, Sights & Culture, Planting Rice Paddy)
“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 India and the UK are joining forces to help solve urgent food security issues in the Asian country by establishing a virtual centre that will investigate how to reduce the use of fertilisers and engineer nitrogen fixation - an essential biological process for all forms of life in the planet – in cereal crops.

The project, led in the UK by the University of Oxford 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 India, the world’s second most populous country.

Dr 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 India-UK Nitrogen Fixation Centre aims to improve soil and increase current levels of crop production in India, 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.”

Dr James also explained that a longer-term goal of the Centre is to investigate mechanisms of interaction between nitrogen-fixing microbes and rice, 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 the Indian Department of Biotechnology  (DBT) with a £2,6m grant, to allow collaboration of leading Indian experts in agricultural microbiology, plant biochemistry and use of legumes with the UK’s foremost research groups in nitrogen fixation, synthetic biology, microscopy and analysis.

Besides the University of Oxford and the James Hutton Institute, partners of the IUNFC project include the John Innes Centre, Indian Institute of Soil Science, University of Baroda, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, University of Calcutta, University of Hyderabad and the Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi.

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/uk-india-link-tackle-food-security-challenges-through-nitrogen-fixation on 23/01/19 10:03:21 PM

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.