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Access to fixed or available forms of nitrogen limits the productivity of crop plants and thus food production. Nitrogenous fertilizer production currently represents a significant expense for the efficient growth of various crops in the developed world. There are significant potential gains to be had from reducing dependence on nitrogenous fertilizers in agriculture in the developed world and in developing countries, and there is significant interest in research on biological nitrogen fixation and prospects for increasing its importance in an agricultural setting. Biological nitrogen fixation is the conversion of atmospheric N2 to NH3, a form that can be used by plants. However, the process is restricted to bacteria and archaea and does not occur in eukaryotes. Symbiotic nitrogen fixation is part of a mutualistic relationship in which plants provide a niche and fixed carbon to bacteria in exchange for fixed nitrogen. This process is restricted mainly to legumes in agricultural systems, and there is considerable interest in exploring whether similar symbioses can be developed in nonlegumes, which produce the bulk of human food. We are at a juncture at which the fundamental understanding of biological nitrogen fixation has matured to a level that we can think about engineering symbiotic relationships using synthetic biology approaches. This minireview highlights the fundamental advances in our understanding of biological nitrogen fixation in the context of a blueprint for expanding symbiotic nitrogen fixation to a greater diversity of crop plants through synthetic biology.

Original publication

DOI

10.1128/AEM.01055-16

Type

Journal article

Journal

Appl Environ Microbiol

Publication Date

01/07/2016

Volume

82

Pages

3698 - 3710

Keywords

Bacteria, Nitrogen Fixation, Plants, Symbiosis