A Nitrogen Fix From the Inside Out

A Nitrogen Fix From the Inside Out

Unique technology reduces crop dependency on nitrogen fertilizer by 50%

Peter Blezard believes agriculture is on the cusp of a significant technological leap. According to Blezard, founder and CEO of United Kingdom-based biotech company Azotic Technologies, agriculture might have an opportunity to reduce nitrogen fertilizer use by 50% in all major food crops in the next decade. 

Azotic has licensed a patented seed coating technology from the University of Nottingham to develop 
N-Fix. The product is based on a beneficial bacterium, Gluconacetobacter diazotrophicus, that builds a symbiotic relationship with plants allowing atmospheric nitrogen to serve as a substitute for soil-derived nitrogen. Pared down, N-Fix reduces crop dependency on nitrogen fertilizer. Ted Cocking, plant cell scientist and emeritus professor at the University of Nottingham, invented the technology that led 
to N-Fix.  

Azotic has completed three seasons of field trials in wheat, oilseed rape and pasture grass (as well as four trials in amenity turf) and achieved 50% nitrogen fertilizer reduction in all of those crops. What’s the differentiator with N-Fix technology? It’s intracellular and functions inside plant cells, according to Blezard. 

“This makes our technology unique, and it’s much more efficient for fixing nitrogen inside the cell,” he says. “It moves to the nitrogen rich chloroplasts that photosynthesize, producing sugars that provide the bacterium with the energy source it needs to fix nitrogen, which it delivers to the cell. The bacterium colonizes every crop we’ve worked with, and I’m talking about any crop type—not just legumes. ”

G. diazotrophicus is presently used in foodstuffs and cosmetics. It is part of the vinegar-producing family of bacteria and found in sugarcane, but Azotic has isolated a very unique strain. N-Fix can be used through 
liquid inoculants, freeze dry powders and seed coatings. 

Azotic will conduct multiple contract research trials in major row crops in the U.S. this year, with plans to move forward with grower trials in 2016. “Once the contract research trials are finished, we’ll have independent, validated evidence available,” Blezard says. “We’re working with USDA at Penn State University as well, and they are very keen on a new nitrogen source. This is a benchmark win-win for agriculture and the environment, and it will reduce fertilizer bills for farmers and reduce nitrate runoff and nitrous oxide emissions.”

Blezard’s confidence is bolstered by a heavyweight in agriculture, Malcolm Elliott, founding director of The Norman Borlaug Institute for Global Food Security and editor-in-chief of Agriculture and Food Security. 

“It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this work for the future of humankind. I grieve that Borlaug himself did not live to see the way Azotic Technologies Ltd. pressed forward with Ted Cocking’s work and demonstrated how their symbiotic bacterium can fix enough nitrogen to reduce—by 50%—the need for 
expensive nitrogen fertilizer to be added to the crop.”

Azotic is in discussion with several major industry partners and governments interested in N-Fix, according to Blezard, with an initial focus on corn, wheat, canola, barley, potatoes and grass.  

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