Nitrogen-fixing bacteria can transform atmospheric nitrogen into fixed nitrogen, compounds which are usable by plants. For example, Rhizobium is a symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria that invade the root hairs of host plants where they multiply and stimulate the formation of root nodules. Within these nodules, nitrogen-fixing bacteria convert free nitrogen into compounds such as ammonia, which the host plant uses for its development.
Legume plants such as peas and soybeans can be infected by nitrogen-fixing bacteria for such benefits. Legume crops are extremely valuable in the United States and around the world. A modest increase in crop yield could increase profits by billions of dollars. Thus, there is an interest and need to improve methods of cultivating crops and increase crop yield. A UC Santa Cruz researcher, in collaboration with The Carnegie Institution for Science, has developed improved approaches for infecting legume plants with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
The approaches involve treating nitrogen-fixing bacteria populations with light before infecting legume plants with them. This improves the bacteria population’s capacity to infect legume plants. The legume plants are then inoculated with the light-activated bacteria, potentially via an irrigation system. Some approaches involve delivering the light-activated population after the legume plant has already developed a root with a functional root hair.
These approaches improve legume plant yield in several ways, such as by improving seed yield.
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