Nitrogen fertilizer costs U.S. farmers approximately $8 billion each year, and excess fertilizer can find its way into rivers and streams, damaging the delicate water systems.
Now, a discovery by a team of University of Missouri researchers could be the first step toward helping crops use less nitrogen, benefitting both farmers' bottom lines and the environment. The journal Science published the research this month.
Gary Stacey, an investigator in the MU Bond Life Sciences Center and professor of plant sciences in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, found that crops, such as corn, are "confused" when confronted with an invasive, but beneficial, bacteria known as rhizobia bacteria. When the bacteria interact correctly with a crop, the bacteria receive some food from the plant and, simultaneously, produce nitrogen that most plants need. In his study, Stacey found that many other crops recognize the bacteria, but do not attempt to interact closely with them.
"The problem is that corn, tomatoes and other crops have a different response and don't support an intimate interaction with the rhizobia, thus making farmers apply larger amounts of nitrogen than might otherwise be necessary," Stacey said. "Scientists have known about this beneficial relationship since 1888, but it only exists in legume crops, like soybeans and alfalfa. We're working to transfer this trait to other plants like corn, wheat or rice, which we believe is possible since these other plants recognize the bacteria. It's a good first step."
When legumes like soybeans sense a signal from the bacteria, they create nodules where the bacteria gather and produce atmospheric nitrogen that the plants can then use to stimulate their growth. This reaction doesn't happen in other plants.
"There's this back and forth battle between a plant and a pathogen," said Yan Liang, a co-author of the study and post-doctoral fellow at MU. "Rhizobia eventually developed a chemical to inhibit the defense response in legumes and make those plants recognize it as a friend. Meanwhile, corn, tomatoes and other crops are still trying to defend themselves against this bacteria."
In the study, Stacey and Liang treated corn, soybeans, tomatoes and other plants to see how they responded when exposed to the chemical signal from the rhizobia bacteria. They found that the plants did receive the signal and, like legumes, inhibited the normal plant immune system. However, soybeans, corn and these other plants don't complete the extra step of forming nodules to allow the bacteria to thrive.
"The important finding was that these other plants didn't just ignore the rhizobia bacteria," Stacey said. "They recognized it, but just activated a different mechanism. Our next step is to determine how we can make the plants understand that this is a beneficial relationship and get them to activate a different mechanism that will produce the nodules that attract the bacteria instead of trying to fight them."
The study was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. For more information about this research, please visit: http://decodingscience.missouri.edu/2013/09/the-secret-of-the-legume.
Christian Basi | Source: EurekAlert!
Further information: www.missouri.edu
More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:
Sustainable recultivation of abandoned agricultural land in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus
04.12.2013 | Leibniz-Institut für Agrarentwicklung in Mittel- und Osteuropa
Which genes cause deafness in dogs?
04.12.2013 | Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover
In power electronics systems bonded connections create the central electrical connections between adjoining surfaces.
The quality of these bonded connections is one of the main factors that determines the reliability and availability of drive systems in electric vehicles, and hence constitutes a major design challenge for German auto manufacturers aiming to electrify their vehicles.
Now the partners participating in the RoBE (Robust Bonds in ...
International team of scientists develops new feedback method for optimizing the laser pulse shapes used in the control of chemical reactions
In many ways, traditional chemical synthesis is similar to cooking. To alter the final product, you can change the ingredients or their ratio, change the method of mixing ingredients, or change the temperature or pressure of the environment of the ingredients.
Like an accomplished chef, chemists have become very skilled ...
A genetic defect protects mice from infection with influenza viruses
A new study published in the scientific journal PLOS Pathogens points out that mice lacking a protein called Tmprss2 are no longer affected by certain flu viruses.
The discovery was made by researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig in collaboration with colleagues from Göttingen and ...
The Light: Global study gets underway with online user survey
Light has a fundamental impact on our sense of well-being and performance. In cooperation with Zumtobel, a supplier of lighting solutions, Fraunhofer IAO has launched a global user survey of lighting quality in offices. The objective is to identify the best lighting conditions for a variety of spaces and lighting ...
Quantum entanglement, a perplexing phenomenon of quantum mechanics that Albert Einstein once referred to as “spooky action at a distance,” could be even spookier than Einstein perceived.
Physicists at the University of Washington and Stony Brook University in New York believe the phenomenon might be intrinsically linked with wormholes, hypothetical features of space-time that in popular science fiction can provide a much-faster-than-light shortcut from one part of the universe to another.
But here’s the catch: One couldn’t actually ...
09.12.2013 | Materials Sciences
09.12.2013 | Life Sciences
09.12.2013 | Studies and Analyses
05.12.2013 | Event News
04.12.2013 | Event News
12.11.2013 | Event News