A Michigan State University scientist will use a $1.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (United Kingdom) to solve the mystery of the missing bacteria.
The bacteria, discovered in a German charcoal pit in the 1990s, is a unique organism that could hold the key that enables plants to grow without the aid of nitrogen added through manmade fertilizers.
Nitrogen is essential for all living organisms. Although nitrogen gas makes up 78 percent of the atmosphere, this form is unusable to plants and animals. Many bacteria can perform nitrogen fixation – the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia, a compound used in critical biological functions.
However, many crops don’t interact with these beneficial bacteria. They obtain their nitrogen fix through chemical fertilizers.