Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

New bacteria could end the need for fertiliser

Gardeners and greenhouse growers alike will undoubtedly be familiar with the wide range of benefits offered by using fertiliser to encourage growth in plants.

However, a new substance has been developed that could put an end to this requirement, removing some of the less enjoyable tasks from the pastime.

Scientists at the University of Nottingham in the UK have come up with a new technology that makes it possible for plants to fertilise themselves, national newspaper the Daily Telegraph reports.

This is made possible by giving the plants the ability to draw nitrogen from the air – and this is important as all plants need nitrogen to be able to grow.

Despite this, very few are able to use nitrogen directly from the air around them, which is why they are reliant on manure or synthetic fertiliser.

However, the biologists from the UK have discovered a form of cane sugar juice that can trap nitrogen all by itself.

A bacteria is encouraged to burrow into the cells of the roots of the plant, where it is able to facilitate this nitrogen conversion process on behalf of the plant.

Tests carried out by the researchers reveal that this can halve the amount of fertiliser required to grow grass turf. The bacteria has also been tested on tomatoes and large-scale trials are being carried out that will test its efficacy on crops such as wheat and maize.

Along with oil seed rape and grasses, these tests could tap into a major market for turf for golf courses, amenities and pasture, should they prove to be a success.

This could become commercially available in two to three years – possibly in the form of a treatment containing the relevant bacteria, which can be used to either coat seeds or inoculate seedlings.

Professor Edward Cocking, the cell biologist at the University of Nottingham who invented the technology, underlined the positive impact this could have on the global environment.

“The world needs to unhook itself from its ever increasing reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertilisers produced from fossil fuels with its high economic costs, its pollution of the environment and its high energy costs,” the expert commented.

“We have shown that not only can this system reduce the amount of nitrogen plants need to grow, they can grow even when starved of nitrogen in the soil,” he continued.

“The potential is huge as it could be used in garden plants and house plants even,” Professor Cocking remarked.