From inorganic to organic fertilizer, with equal punch

The researchers plan to conduct a life-cycle assessment of this organic fertilizer to evaluate its environmental footprint across production, storage, application, transport and disposal.
Opportunity stares agriculturists in the face to replace inorganic synthetic nitrogen-rich fertilizers with natural fertilizers that are equally or even more effective
Opportunity stares agriculturists in the face to replace inorganic synthetic nitrogen-rich fertilizers with natural fertilizers that are equally or even more effective

A golden opportunity stares agriculturists in the face to replace inorganic synthetic nitrogen-rich fertilizers with natural fertilizers that are equally or even more effective while eliminating the former’s harmful impact on health and environment. A study conducted at Japan’s largest comprehensive research institution RIKEN’s Centre for Sustainable Resource Science (CSRS) and Kyoto University, has found that biomass made from the purple photosynthetic marine bacterium Rhodovulum sulfidophilum is an excellent nitrogen fertilizer that can play just that role.

The study has also shown that this biomass is as effective as common inorganic synthetic fertilizers, but avoids a range of side effects which harm the environment. The finding has been credited to RIKEN CSRS’ Biomacromolecules Research Team, which has been scouting for a natural source of nitrogen to replace ammonia-based synthetic fertilizers. They have been working on purple non-sulphur bacteria (PNSB), which have enzymes that absorb atmospheric nitrogen and incorporate it into proteins. But until now, no one has tested their effectiveness as fertilizers.

Aiming to develop a PNSB fertilizer, the researchers mashed up the PNSB R. sulfidophilum, generated dried biomass from the released cellular material, analyzed it, and found that its nitrogen content was 11% by weight — much higher than that in other organic fertilizers, including biomass made from other microbes or microalgae. Experiments revealed that the biomass fertilizer was as good as the nitrogen-rich inorganic fertilizers in boosting plant growth in varying temperatures.

The researchers plan to conduct a life-cycle assessment of this organic fertilizer to evaluate its environmental footprint across production, storage, application, transport and disposal. Besides, they are looking at how the biomass production can be scaled up and also whether its shelf-life can be increased for it to be marketed over longer periods of time.

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