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Scientists dig into nitrogen fixation in plants

Scientists dig into nitrogen fixation in plants

Ag industry stakeholders now have a thorough understanding of the interaction between plants and rhizobia bacteria, thanks to Swiss researchers.

For years, researchers thought the symbiotic relationship between plants and rhizobia was voluntary – that both organisms provided each other with resources they needed to survive. But it turns out the two partners exploit one another, a June ETH Zürich release said. ETH Zürich is a Swiss university of science and technology.

Plants, such as clover and soybeans, treat rhizobia as pathogens. The plants try to cut off the bacteria’s oxygen supply and expose them to acidic conditions, the release said. In response, the bacteria use arginine (an amino acid) from the plant to enable metabolism in an oxygen-deprived environment.

Rhizobia create ammonium to neutralize the acidic environment and survive. The rhizobia then pass the ammonium onto the plant.

Scientists can use biotechnology to transfer this newly discovered process of bacterial nitrogen fixation to non-leguminous crops, the release said.

“Now that we've mapped the mechanism down to the last detail, this (approach) is likely to improve our chances of achieving a favourable result,” Dr. Beat Christen, a professor of experimental systems biology at the university, said in the release.

The full study appears in the June issue of Molecular Systems Biology

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