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Synthetic biology to enable maize to fix nitrogen

A research team at the US University of Illinois sees synthetic biology being used to enable maize to fix nitrogen in much the same way as soybeans do. They have developed the equivalent of an amplifier incorporated within nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which via a positive feedback mechanism, sensitises root nodule bacteria to enzymes involved in nitrogen fixation produced by host cells and amplifies production of bacterial proteins involved in nitrogen fixation. In a system designed to produce a particular molecule or chemical, much larger output levels can be generated, says lead researcher Dr Kaustubh Bhalerao. Designing a system that enables nitrogen-fixing bacteria to communicate with the root systems of maize plants should reduce the need for artificial fertilisers, increasing agricultural sustainability.

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