Nitrogen fertilisers are a major part of crop production. Crops need nitrogen to convert sunlight into sugars effectively, and so the nitrogen fertiliser keeps the plant fresh and alive.
But like most fertilisers, the nitrogen fertiliser has its disadvantages, which primarily affect the environment.
A group of researchers from Washington University have come up with a new fertiliser that is produced by a special kind of bacterium.
The team is lead by Indian-origin researchers Himadri Pakrasi and Maitrayee Bhattacharyya-Pakrasi who aim to reduce the number of synthetic fertilisers as they affect the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The research team created the bacteria called Cyanothece, which can make fertiliser using the nitrogen in the atmosphere. And not only that, the bacteria has a sleep cycle like us, humans.
So, how did the team manage to create this unique bacteria?
Nitrogen fixation is a process that uses nitrogen in the atmosphere to convert it into ammonia. Though no plants can directly do this, there are bacterial types called Cyanobacteria which can.
Cyanobacteria use photosynthesis to survive and are the only bacteria to display circadian rhythm, meaning they have a 24-hour cycle of work and rest.
The cyanothece bacteria photosynthesise during the day, converting sunlight into the chemical energy they use as fuel. Later at night, it fixes nitrogen, producing ammonia.
But the research team wanted the bacteria to fix nitrogen during the day, so they took the genes from Cyanothece and put them into another type of cyanobacteria– Synechocystis.
“We saw a contiguous set of 35 genes that were doing things only at night, and they were basically silent during the day,” Pakrasi told the Financial Express. After many trials, they had successfully modified the bacteria which could fix nitrogen during the day. The research paper was published in the journal of mBio.
With proper implementation, the bacteria could single-handedly put harmful fertilisers to sleep.