Why have i got a bad feeling about this...
If this was such a great natural advantage, wouldn't it have spread throughout the plant kingdom a long time ago?
This is really big and a great approach too. It is much better than just putting the genes in the plant to fix nitrogen. If they did that instead and they proliferated it could reduce the volume of the atmosphere leading to increases in radiation and very cold nights. Oxygen would not pose a problem...with the increased plant life there would probably be a small increase in oxygen. Also, as theoretical maximum tree height is a function of atmospheric pressure it would mean the tops of the very tall trees would die. Trees would not be able to grow as high under less atmospheric pressure. They would get xylem embolisms lower than they do now (max height now is about 130m), water can only be pulled so high. Some can cheat a little bit collecting moisture from the air or by only getting water to the top on high pressure days but that only gets a few more scraggly meters.
It also might mean that aquatic mammals and birds may be able to dive deeper because of reduced nitrogen bubbles. Unknown, but probably Minimal ecosystem effects from that.
With less air pressure it might increase evaporation making the air more humid on average and combined with the cooling at night lead to frequent night rain.
But as long as we have to soak the seed and the plant's subsequent generations don't retain the bacteria, things should be great...we don't really grow that much vegetation.
Does lead one to wonder why more plants are not doing this already. I hope there is not a good reason. I also wonder if it will accelerate spoilage as bacteria are part of that equation.
This does sound fantastic though.
The oil company would never allow this. Dream on.
I am not convinced that spreading a South American bacteria around the world is a better idea than over fertilization.
Congratulations. I hope for all the best that this is a big step towards sustainability.
Now to find a solution for phosphate fertilizers...
Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
MINDBREAKER: the idea that plant fixing nitrogen would somehow make our atmosphere thinner is ludicrous. Our atmosphere is approximately 5.5 quadrillion tons, and 78% nitrogen. Any effect on atmosphere density due to this symbiotic bacteria infecting every single plant on earth would still be negligible, perhaps not even measurable. Do some math before you start fear mongering.
The question I have is what is the cost to the plant in having to feed this symbiot in exchange for the nitrogen. Sugarcane has lots of extra energy in the form of the sugar the plant it produces. Corn, wheat, vegetables may grow smaller or produce less if the energy requirements of symbiosis are too high.
SLOWBURN: While this process avoids needing to engineer the plants, it also opens possibility for cross contamination. Though it does seem a negligible worry, in my opinion, as the seed must be inoculated for the plant to achieve the symbiosis. Any reduction in field fertilization is an environmental bonus, and a hopeful way to combat ocean dead zones caused by fertilizer runoff.
I have seen the results of too many well intentioned specie introductions to think that this time it will go as planned.
Wave harvesting machines that splash water around aerate the water which will fix the nutrient caused ocean dead zones. For steams and rivers use under shot waterwheels and you can generate electricity at the same time as you aerate.
Slowburn: I too am wary of introduced non native species, and would actually prefered the plant to be gene spliced instead of massive release of a 'beneficial' bacteria. I have no problem with genetic engineering, my problem is that plants are being engineered to be able to survive increase pesticide use. To me that seems exactly the wrong solution to engineer for. I'd much rather see a plant engineered so that it needed no added pesticides, fungicides or fertilizers. Corn, wheat, soy, rice, potato, tomato, ect would all benefit from being engineered to hardiness levels and there would be no worry of the engineered genes jumping into other species like a bacterium could.
This is great, but certainly not new!
Making the use, though, of just the one nitrogen fixing microbe
to improve yield and nutrient levels, solves only part of the soil puzzle.
Biosoil LLC in Hattiesburg Mississippi, in conjunction with MSU have successfully developed a polymicrobial product labelled SumaGrow, which has this particular microbe along with many others that work in symbiosis to greatly improve plant health. this product is now available in over 40 countries from Zambia to Costa Rica.
Check it out here: www.farmorganix.com
Slowburn: I can't tell if you're trolling or not but whatevs. The undershot vs. overshot waterwheel debate was settled by John Smeaton in 1759; overshot wheels are twice as efficient as undershot ones. Get with the times.
Also, wave harvesting machines (of which very have been installed) splashing around and causing ocean dead zones? If that were true the splashing around that naturally occurring ocean waves create would have dead zones almost everywhere, not just where fertiliser runoff has created algal or cyanobacterial blooms that deoxygenate the water and kill everything...
The efficiency of of overshot water wheels is not in question but they take a waterfall or a dam or a long pipe. If there is a waterfall there is no need for additional aeration. I am aerating the water to get rid of a dead zone the electricity is a bonus that will in time pay for the instillation. If my primary purpose was generating electricity I would install underwater windmills. Also the instillation could be made to look like a paddle wheel steam boat working up river; call it art.
A lot of the genetic modifications are done to make the plants produce insecticides. This increases the amount of the the poisons being introduced into the environment.
I am opposed to the gene engineering because they have spent so much money to keep from having to label their products. Also there is no evidence that they have increased yields.
@Kim Holder: "If this was such a great natural advantage, wouldn't it have spread throughout the plant kingdom a long time ago?"
That's not really how evolution works. For one, the plants that don't have this symbiotic relationship with this bacteria are already surviving just fine. Perhaps legumes evolved in a region with low nitrogen content in the soil, which could explain why they have this relationship with this bacteria. Other plants clearly have been able to easily obtain nitrogen from the soil for millions of years.
Additionally, agriculture is relatively new on geologic timescales. That's not enough time for plants to evolve due simply to human pressures.
Evolution is also a crap shoot. Just because some mutation or symbiotic relationship might be beneficial doesn't mean an organism will automatically obtain that.
Kim Holder asks: "If this was such a great natural advantage, wouldn't it have spread throughout the plant kingdom a long time ago?"
My question is: "If an opposable thumb is such a great natural advantage, wouldn't it have spread throughout the animal kingdom a long time ago?"
Both questions are just silly.
Interesting article and comments. Thanks Sumagrow. It will be interesting to see how this develops and if it indeed can address more elegantly the fertilization of plants without the negative effects of fertilizing the oceans and waterways of the world.
Good idea as long as it doesn't lead to more GMO's altering the ecology of our only home planet.
re; squigbobble part 2
The aerating affect of the wave machines would reduce the dead zone not create a dead zone.
If N-fix will reduce the need for synthetic fertilizer by 60%, and the plants are just as strong, I'm for it as an interim fix.
The agriculture business has been going downhill for many decades, contrary to the propaganda from the chemical companies partly responsible. The main fault lies with the farmer. He has neglected to understand his business. For the farmer,"taking care of business" literally means taking care of his soil. In general, soil health is in decline.
Reliance on the quick fix of synthetic fertilizers reduces soil fertility. This creates a continuing dependence (an addiction?) to more chemicals. To keep yields up and compensate for declining soil fertility higher amounts nitrogen are needed. This even gives higher yields sometimes, but at the cost of plant health. Weaker plants have lower resistance to decease and pests. Hence, more pesticide and herbicide sprays are needed. Commercially grown crops are also less nutritious than their healthier organic competition.
The question every farmer needs to ask: Is my soil getting healthier? Every year he should be building soil fertility.
Sustainable farming without herbicides, pesticides, or commercial fertilizers is not only possible, it is cheaper. See: "The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy", by Masanobu Fukuoka.
@MINDBREAKER: "Fixing" the nitrogen does not magically convert just the nitrogen into a bioavailable form; to "fix" atmospheric nitrogen as these bacteria do is to combine it chemically with other substances, chiefly with oxygen, in the form of nitrates and various oxides of nitrogen.
So the danger is real, but the opposite of what you are suggesting: fixing atmospheric nitrogen en masse will deplete atmospheric oxygen long before it makes a dent in the nitrogen.
@Chizzy: You are grossly underestimating the capacity of the biosphere to affect atmospheric composition. The atmosphere that we have now, with lots of oxygen and trace CO2, is entirely biogenic. In fact, there were already two catastrophes in the Earth's history, where a newly evolved biochemistry caused a mass extinction by making the atmosphere toxic:
One was the oxygenation event, when the newly evolved photosynthetic bacteria poisoned the atmosphere with oxygen---it's what we're breathing now :-)
The other was the Permian extinction, which is increasingly believed to have been caused by biogenic release of hydrogen sulfide, mostly into the oceans and partly into the atmosphere.
Thus it is entirely feasible to cause a catastrophe by introducing a widespread biochemical capacity to fix nitrogen, resulting in the fatal conversion of atmospheric oxygen into nitrogen oxides. This doomsday scenario has already been explored in science fiction; read The Nitrogen Fix by Hal Clement.
If this can spread to weeds, it will. Think kudzu. Nitrogen fixing. Great cow fodder. Kills trees, whole forests, even. Now imagine nitrogen fixing hog weed. Please test on a remote island, such as England.
If accumulation of atmospheric nitrogen will decrease atmospheric pressure then perhaps it will be replaced by the massive amounts of nitrogen in our oceans.
Decreased pressure will lower the boiling point of water and other molecules/compounds ever so slightly but have such a large impact since water and it's effluents covers two thirds of our planet.
The said N-Fix technology has the potential to change the nutrition aspect w.r.t. N. Having said so, there are a number of questions regarding the technology:
1. The organisms are said to be natural. If so, why it was not fixing N earlier?
2. Whether the carrier material is anything to do with colonisation?
3. How expensive is the technology?