Nitrogen Fixation and Bacterial Infection
Most plants rely on natural environmental processes, that replenish bioavailable nitrogen in the soil, for nutrition and growth. Plants, such as legumes, have evolved symbiotic interactions with nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria known as rhizobia. These interactions have the potential to fuel nitrogen metabolism in plants, by fixing gaseous nitrogen from the atmosphere, while consuming carbon supplied by the plants.
The ENSA team has focused its research in this area on transferring the beneficial association between nitrogen-fixing bacteria and legumes, to cereals and other crop plants. Engineering biological nitrogen fixation into species that currently do not have this ability, has the potential to make an important impact on the metabolism of these plant species and may sustainably enhance production for small-holder farmers.
Coordination of genetic and morphological responses by plants across time and space, is essential for intracellular bacterial infection, efficient nitrogen-fixation and metabolite exchange. ENSA is analysing the genetic mechanisms that allow intracellular bacterial infection of legume cells, to guide the engineering of this process in cereals, including the components specific to nitrogen-fixing symbiosis.