Principal investigators: Luis Rubio, Paul Christou, Dennis Dean, Elena Caro, Leonardo Curatti
Associated with: Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (Spain); Universidad de Lleida (Spain); Virginia Tech (USA); Fundación para Investigaciones Biológicas Aplicadas (Argentina)
The long-term goal of the Engineering Nitrogen Fixation project (BNF-Cereals) is to engineer varieties of cereals that require little or no nitrogen input and deliver higher and more resilient yields. BNF-Cereals technology will help small farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia to increase crop profits and overcome poverty. It seeks a durable solution to poverty that is environmental and economically sustainable. Its goal will be achieved by making the plants acquire nitrogen from the atmosphere rather than from synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. The strategy is to transfer to the plant the bacterial genes needed for the biogenesis of nitrogenase, the protein complex that performs biological nitrogen fixation (BNF). We will reconstitute the nitrogenase biosynthetic pathway, delivering concepts, knowledge, tools and methodologies for engineering nitrogen fixation in staple cereal crops. Synthetic biology, plant and yeast cell cultures, combinatorial genetic transformation of cereals and model plants, and biochemical complementation assays of resulting nitrogen fixation proteins will be the tools used. This approach has the advantage of developing a technology that is transmissible through the seeds and is generic for cereals.