The soil bacteria that interact with the root nodules of legumes such as beans or peas are known as rhizobia. These symbiotic bacteria contribute two-thirds of the nitrogen that is used in agricultural production. As oil prices rise, so does the cost of nitrogen fertilizers, which significantly impacts both global farming economies and bioenergy research, as scientists are devoting a significant portion of their time toward developing crops for biofuel feedstocks. To improve symbiotic nitrogen fixation and potentially reduce reliance on nitrogen fertilizers for agricultural and bioenergy production, this project focuses on sequencing the genomes of 20 different rhizobia from distinct geographical regions – the Mediterranean basin, high altitude temperate Europe, North America, South America, highland central Africa and southern Africa – across the globe to understand the genes and pathways involved in nitrogen fixation through multiple genome comparisons.
Symbiotic nitrogen fixation is estimated to be worth more than $13 billion globally as 120 million tons of atmospheric nitrogen is converted into ammonia each year by this process. Researchers think improving symbiotic nitrogen fixation could remove the need for as much as 160 million tons of nitrogen fertilizer, an amount equivalent to a reduction of 270 million tons of coal that would have been consumed in the production process.
Principal Investigators: Wayne Reeve, Murdoch University
Program: CSP 2010