If Montana State University's John Peters is successful in his efforts to help an international consortium boost farming productivity and reduce fossil fuel use, he could be part of a move to transform agriculture to a new future.
The MSU Astrobiology and Life in Extreme Environments Program director, a chemist, joins one of four projects seeking to transform the future of farming, a $12 million program.
The researchers hope to reduce use of fuel-dependent fertilizer use, which has caused farmers to pay high prices to bring nutrients to their crops.
Two universities in the U.S. and two more in British schools are taking part in the program. Peters will be part of a study to promote relationships between plants and bacteria that can result in reduced need for plant fertilization.
"This is a novel approach to promoting relationships between plants and bacteria that promise to make a number of fundamental scientific advances with the potential to make game-changing advances in agriculture," says Peters.
"We are intent on designing a symbiosis between plants and microorganism in which the plant would provide the carbon source needed to fuel the bacteria and the bacteria would turn nitrogen into an available form such as ammonium.
"It would be a process that doesn't require an energy intensive industrial product."
The U.S. National Science Foundation and U.K.'s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council made the $12 million in awards following an "ideas lab" that focused on developing new products for dealing with the challenges of nitrogen in the growing global food demand.
Nitrogen demand in farming is expected to grow to 190 million tons by 2015 to feed the world's increasing demand for food. Most farms still rely in great quantities of industrially produced nitrogen-rich fertilizer to ensure crop yields, but the process means a high use of fossil fuels to produce the N product ag needs.