GM crops may be capable of making their own nitrogen fertilizer

Two University of Alberta researchers have published a step by step plan to one-day end the use of environmentally harmful chemicals on commercial crops by developing plants that produce their own fertilizer.

U of A plant biologist Allen Good says the energy required to produce nitrogen fertilizers has pushed the world-wide cost for agricultural producers to $100 billion a year. Good says that while they are necessary for high yields, those nitrogen fertilizers also damage the environment.

Emissions from nitrogen fertilizers add to greenhouse gas emissions and chemical run-off from farm fields cause algae blooms in fresh water lakes and rivers. Good says the cost of cleaning up the environment adds another $50 billion to the world-wide cost of commercial agriculture fertilizers.

Good and his U of A co-author Perrin Beatty says some plants, like peas, have the natural ability to split atoms of nitrogen gas and use the bioactive elements that enhance growth. Mass produced and consumed cereal crops like wheat, rice and maize cannot naturally split nitrogen atoms and need commercial fertilizers…

Good and his U of A co-author Perrin Beatty say the fix is to genetically alter agricultural products like cereal crops so they can process nitrogen from the atmosphere naturally and still get the same growth enhancing effect as commercial fertilizers.

They’ve published their scheme to encourage discussion and research in this direction. Sounds reasonable to me. But, then, I think good genetic research can solve many problems we haven’t yet started to address.

One thought on “GM crops may be capable of making their own nitrogen fertilizer

  1. moss says:

    The toughest question, certainly the most interesting, will be the difficulty of building in a self-regulating mechanism for nitrogen production. Conceivably we might end up with an overproduction of nitrogen – that goes where?

    If it moves into the water table, then algae blooms, etc. will not decrease. Moving into the atmosphere doesn’t appear to be a problem. Nitrogen fluctuates a good deal as it is – in the air we breathe.

    And then there’s the fact that nature doesn’t especially self-regulate, anyway – except at the disaster end – employing die-offs and uncontrolled explosions of fecundity with unsentient regularity. 🙂

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