Euan James

Research Leader in Beneficial Plant-Microbe Interactions
Ecological Sciences
T: +44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

I completed my PhD in Biological Sciences at the University of Dundee in 1990, and then over the next 10 years worked as a World Bank-consultant in Brazil and the Philippines where I specialised in the localisation of N-fixing bacteria in sugarcane and rice using electron microscopy.

During my time working in Brazil I also gained a strong interest in the legume-rhizobial symbioses, particularly their role in tropical ecosystems and in agriculture, and co-wrote a NERC-funded project at the University of St Andrews on the functioning of legume symbioses in the Brazilian Pantanal wetlands.

After St. Andrews, my position prior to joining the James Hutton Institute was as an electron microscopist at the University of Dundee College of Life Sciences, where I also acted as Principal Investigator on a NERC-funded project “In search of beta-rhizobia: exploring the symbionts of Mimosa in Brazil.”

I am a plant and microbial scientist specialising in root-nodulating symbiotic interactions between (mainly) legumes and soil bacteria called rhizobia that “fix” atmospheric Nitrogen (N) gas into forms that the plant can use for its growth. These symbioses, in which the legume houses the rhizobia in structures on their roots called nodules, provide the host plant with all its N requirements, and thus allow these plants to colonize soils that are depleted in this most essential of plant nutrients. In addition to their ecological importance, many legumes, such as pea, beans, soybeans, clover etc., are of enormous agricultural significance, with their high-protein seeds being used for both human and animal consumption. Their ability to fix their own N means that no addition of N-containing fertiliser is required for their cultivation. This is an essential attribute for sustainable agriculture, not just economically, but also in terms of mitigation against pollution resulting from the massive overuse of agricultural fertilizer over the last 50 years. This overuse has resulted in the current “Nitrogen Crisis” in which waterways, groundwater, and even coastal ecosystems are polluted by harmful nitrates, and is also partly responsible for the enormous greenhouse gas (especially nitrous oxides) emissions that are produced by agriculture in the Global North. This can only be tackled by reducing our over-reliance on fertilisers; the efficient exploitation of N-fixing legumes is key to this endeavour, and my research is largely focused on this.

My expertise includes:

Nitrogen fixation by legume crops (pulses and forages): Currently measuring biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) by various legumes, such as field beans Vicia faba in an experimental rotation at the Centre for Sustainable Cropping(CSC) (Maluk et al. 2022), and soybean (Maluk et al. 2023). This work was/is funded by RESAS, and by various EU FP7 and Horizon2020 projects, such as Legume Futures and TRUE (

Nitrogen fixation by non-legumes:Currently undertaking RESAS-funded work to assess the N-fixing microbiome of the C4 “energy grass”, Miscanthus, cropped on marginal land in Scotland without any inputs. This work will be presented at the 17th Symposium on Biological Nitrogen Fixation by Non-legumes in Naples, Italy, which I am co-organising (


Diversity of nodulated legumes and their microbial symbionts in native ecosystems in the UK and in the tropics:


Climate change also poses great threats to native Scottish legume biodiversity, which includes some of the rarest plants in the British Isles, the alpine milk vetches, Astragalus alpinus and Oxytropis species. Working with colleagues at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, we are helping to maintain Scotland’s natural capital by conducting research into the ecology of these N-fixing “Ice Age relic” plants which hang on precariously in their mountain habitats in the face of increasingly warmer winters.

Further afield, as part of the Gates-funded ENSA project, I am conducting fieldwork in the Brazilian CerradoPantanal, and Amazon, and in the Ghanaian rainforest to investigate the evolution (and losses) of nodulation in tree legumes. This work has not only revealed to me the sheer diversity of legume symbioses, but also how fragile they and other components of these increasingly threatened ecosystems are. It’s only by cataloguing and describing this incredible diversity that we can convince the public and policy makers that it has intrinsic value, and that it must be preserved for future generations.

This research involves nodule sampling in the field, transmission electron microscopy (TEM), microbiome analysis, isolation of microsymbionts, sequencing of their genomes, and comparative genomics of both plant and bacterial partners in the symbiosis.

Plant transmission electron microscopy (TEM):the ultrastructure of beneficial plant-bacterial interactions, including crop legumes like faba bean. I also specialise in immunolocalisation of both conventionally (chemically)- and cryo-fixed plant material.


Current funders include:

EU H2020 Programme:

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: ENSA project

More information and contacts:

Professor Euan James, James Hutton Institute – Botanics Stories (

Euan JAMES | Research Leader in Beneficial Plant-Bacterial Interactions | PhD | James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen | Ecological Sciences Research | Research profile (

?Euan James – ?Google Scholar

Past research

Identified the nature of the O2 regulation mechanism in legume nodules using electron microscopy.

Identified the mechanisms that allow flooding-tolerant legumes to fix N whilst flooded in both tropical and temperate ecosystems.

Confirmed the endophytic nature of several species of N-fixing bacteria in sugarcane and rice using light and electron microscopy.

Showed that a completely “new” (actually ancient) type of symbiont existed in legume nodules in tropical ecosystems that was unrelated to Rhizobium. These symbionts are now termed “Beta-rhizobia”.




  • Iannetta, P.P.M.; Begg, G.; Black, K.; Hawes, C.; Karley, A.j.; James, E.K.; Maluk, M.; Newton, A.; Squire, G.R.; Walker, G.; White, P. (2017) Teaming up for good: intercropping and farming-science partnership at the James Hutton Institute., NGO Report for, 8 November 2017.
  • Iannetta, P.P.M.; Begg, G.; Black, K.; Hawes, C.; Karley, A.J.; James, E.K.; Maluk, M.; Newton, A.C.; Squire, G.R.; Walker, G.; White, P.J. (2017) Sustainable legume systems for improved primary produce., SAB Annual Report, May 2017.
  • Squire, G.R.; Begg, G.S.; Hawes, C.; Iannetta, P.P.M.; James, E.K.; Karley, A.J.; Young, M.W. (2011) Scotland’s wild arable plants., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2010, pp21-23.

Conference papers

  • Carmona, M.; Lafos, M.; Maluk, M.; Batista, M.B.; Junghare, M.; Faoro, H.; Magalhães, L.; Battistoni, F.J.; Souza, E.M.; Pedrosa, F.O.; Chen, W.M.; Prasad, G.; Poole, P.S.; Dixon, R.A.; James, E.K. (2018) Comparative genomics reveals Azoarcus comprises three genera: Azoarcus sensu stricto, Aromatoleum gen. nov. and Gallonia gen. nov., XVI Symposium on Biological Nitrogen Fixation with Non-Legumes and IV LatinAmerican Workshop of PGPR. Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, 26 August – 1 September 2018. Book of Abstracts, Short Note II.V, pp39.
  • Black, K.; Walker, G.; White, P.J.; Maluk, M.; Squire, G.R.; James, E.K.; Iannetta, P.P.M. (2016) Intercropping: pea supported production of barley for brewing and distilling., In: Abstracts of the British Ecological Society Annual Meeting, Liverpool, 11-14 December 2016. Conference paper and presentation
  • Black, K.; Walker, G.; White, P.J.; Karley, A.; Ramsay, L.; Ramsay, G.; James, E.K.; Squire, G.R.; Iannetta, P.P.M. (2016) Mainstream pulses: exploring local solutions to supply chain limitations., 2nd Conference of the International Legume Society, Legumes for a Sustainable World, Tróia, Portugal, 11-14 October 2016. Conference paper and presentation.
  • Iannetta, P.P.M.; Karley, A.; Ramsay, L.; Ramsay, G.; James, E.K.; Squire, G.R. (2016) Sustainable and profitable protein production using faba bean., 14th Congress of the European Society of Agronomy, in association with Association of Applied Biologists, Edinburgh, Scotland, 5-9 September 2016. Conference paper and presentation.
  • James, E.K.; Lopez del Egido, L.; Maluk, M.; Young, M.; Hawes, C.; Squire, G.R.; Iannetta, P.P.M. (2016) Nitrogen fixation by faba bean (Vicia faba L.) in a 4 year crop rotation in East Scotland., 12th European Nitrogen Fixation Congress, Budapest, Hungary, 25-28 August 2016. (Conference paper, presentation and poster).
  • Iannetta, P.P.M.; Begg, G.; James, E.K.; Smith, B.; Davies, C.; Karley, A.J.; Lopez del Egido, L.; Hawes, C.; Young, M.; Ramsay, G.; Birch, A.N.E.; Valentine, T.A.; Warburton-Brown, C.; Goldring, A.; Hughes, T.; Sprent, J.; Wolfe, M.; Rees, R.M. (2013) Sustainable intensification: a pivotal role for legume supported cropped systems., AAB/BeS-AeG Rethinking Farmed Systems in the UK, St. Catherine’s College University of Oxford, 18-19 December 2013. Co-organiser/Invited speaker. Aspects Applied Biology 121, 73-82.
  • James, E.K.; Iannetta, P.P.M.; Doherty, S.; Young, M.W.; Hawes, C.; Squire, G.R.; (2012) Biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) by faba bean at the Centre for Sustainable Cropping (CSC), Dundee, Scotland., 10th European Nitrogen Fixation Conference. Munich, 2-5 September 2012.
  • Young, M.W.; Hawes, C.; Iannetta, P.P.M.; James, E.K.; Karley, A.J.; Squire, G.R. (2011) Increasing the sustainability of arable yield and reducing the dependence on chemical N fertilisers., Aspects of Applied Biology, Agricultural Ecology Research: Its role in delivering sustainable farm systems, Dundee, 15-16 June 2011, 109, pp81-86.
  • James, E.K.; Iannetta, P.P.M.; Squire, G.R. (2010) Nodulation of agriculturally and ecologically important legumes in East Scotland by Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. vicieae., Nitrogen and Global Change Conference, Edinburgh International Conference Centre, 11-14 April 2010.
  • Osei, Y.; James, E.K.; Iannetta, P.P.M.; Squire, G.R.; Sprent, J.I.; Huss-Danell, K. (2009) Nitrogen fixation and genetic diversity of rhizobia nodulating native legumes in Sweden., 16th International Nitrogen Fixation Congress, Montana USA, 14-19 June 2009.
  • Iannetta, P.P.M.; James, E.K.; Thow, G.; Minchin, F.R.; Simpson, C.G.; Sprent, J.I.; Williamson, B. (1998) Immunolocalisation of polygalacturonase-inhibiting protein (PGIP) in white lupin., Proceedings of 8th Scottish Cell Wall Group Meeting, Dundee, 8-9 April 1998, 6.

Conference posters

  • Iannetta, P.P.M.; Begg, G.; Boath, A.; James, E.; Hawes, C.; Karley, A.J.; Maluk, M.; Ferrando Molina, F.; Newton, A.C.; Quilliam, R.; Squire, G. (2018) The potential of legume-supported food- and feed-chains to strengthen capacities for sustainable economic development., CECHR Annual Symposium, University of Dundee, Dundee, 21 May 2018.
  • Maluk, M.; Lafos, M.; Iannetta, P.P.M.; James, E.K. (2018) Developing elite rhizobial inoculants to improve the productivity of grain legume crops in the UK., XV European Society for Agronomy Congress (ESA), Geneva, Switzerland, 27-31 August 2018. (Poster presentation).
  • Dello Jacovo, E.; James, E.K.; Kenicer, G.; Park, L.; Valentine, T.A.; Bonomi, C.; Iannetta, P.P.M. (2015) Conserving rare and endangered mountain legumes in the genera Astragalus and Oxytropis., British Ecological Society, Annual Meeting, Edinburgh, 14-16 December 2015. Poster presentation.
  • Iannetta, P.P.M.; James, E.K.; Hawes, C.; Lopez Del Egido, L.; Karley, A.; Olukosi, O.; Houdijk, J.; Crampton, V.; Moench, M.; Palomba, G.; Ianieri, J.; Clarke, F.; Duncan, K.; Squire, G.; Walker, G.; Ramsay, G. (2014) The road less travelled: from ‘ecological services’ to ‘agronomic practice., In: Abstracts of the European Society of Agronomy Annual Meeting, University of Debrecen, Hungary 25-29 September 2014. Poster presentation.
  • Burchill, W.; Li, D.; Lanigan, G.; Williams, M.; James, E.K.; Iannetta, P.P.M.; Humphreys, J. (2014) Comparisons of biological nitrogen (N) fixation of white clover measured using two 15N techniques under four fertiliser N input., 10th Congress on Agriculture and the Environment X, Delivering Multiple Benefits from our Land: Sustainable Development in Practice, John McIntyre Conference Centre, Edinburgh, 15-16 April 2014. (Poster presentation)
  • James, E.K.; Iannetta, P.P.M.; Doherty, S.; Young, M.W.; Hawes, C.; Karley, A.J.; Squire, G.R.; (2012) Biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) by faba bean at the Centre for Sustainable Cropping, Dundee, Scotland., 2nd Annual Meeting of Legume Futures, University of Athens, 26-30 March 2012 (Poster).