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Synthetic Symbioses (SynSym)

Posted by | February 21, 2021

Principal investigators:

Associated with:

  • University of Wisconsin;
  • Washington State University;
  • Noble Research Institute;
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology;
  • John Innes Center;
  • University of Oxford

Project Summary:

A $5.09M project, using cutting-edge research techniques to investigate and engineer nitrogen-fixing symbioses between bacteria and plants, jointly funded by the UK’s BBSRC and NSF (USA).

Six research labs, four in the USA and two in the UK, have been funded to investigate and engineer interactions between nitrogen-fixing bacteria and plants. Symbiotic nitrogen fixation occurs naturally in leguminous plants (e.g. peas, beans, alfalfa) with specific soil bacteria (rhizobia). Engineering successful symbioses in non-leguminous plants (especially crops such as wheat or maize) will lead to increased nitrogen (N) in soil. The impact of this is two-fold; firstly an increase in crop yield from N-poor soils (e.g. in the poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa) and secondly a decrease in N-rich fertiliser required to attain the extremely high crop yields from some of the richest parts of the world. Such a reduction is desirable as over-use of such fertilisers has lead to pollution of ground-water and rivers through run-off and of the atmosphere through increased emissions of nitrous oxide (a potent greenhouse gas) from the action of bacteria in soil with an excessive N content.

Novel synthetic symbioses, to increase nitrogen delivered to plants, form the over-arching aims of this work.