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Fixing the Nitrogen Problem

Nitrogen fertilizers are a miracle of modern agriculture —  their application increases crop yields which help feed an expanding global population. But there is downside to the use of nitrogen fertilizers: they require intense amounts of energy to produce; nitrogen runoff is a major source of pollution; and nitrogen is an expensive, often inaccessible input for smallholder farmers around the world. 

Scientists on the Engineering Nitrogen Symbiosis for Africa (ENSA) research project are focused on using biological nitrogen fixation to sustainably increase yields for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. By studying the natural nitrogen fixation process in legumes and transferring that process to cereal crops, scientist hope to reduce our reliance on artificial fertilizers. 

Partner institutes on the ENSA project include the John Innes Centre (UK), Aarhus University (Denmark), the Boyce Thompson Institute (US), the Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre (UK), and the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA, France).

ENSA is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Video by Robert Hazen.

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