Woo-Suk Chang, an assistant professor in biology, will receive $100,000 from Novozymes Biologicals, Inc., a biotechnology company, to study symbiotic nitrogen fixation and discover a way to deliver nitrogen through a better inoculant in crops (i.e., soybeans) which is more efficient and better for the environment.
Novozymes, with headquarters in Denmark, is the largest industrial enzyme production company in the world. Chang’s research has been supported by the company since 2009. The newest round of support will fund $100,000 for two-years starting in March 2014.
“The project’s goal is to develop a more tolerant inoculant,” Chang said. “Hopefully we will find a more environmentally friendly and tolerant inoculant so that farmers can use it more effectively.”
Inoculants are microorganisms which are added to crops to promote plant health. Legumes - which include soybeans, peas, beans, peanuts, lentils and alfalfa - grow best and produce more yield if inoculated with special soil bacteria, called Rhizobia, which form nodules on the roots of the plant. Within nodules, bacteria become bacteroids which are responsible for "fixing" the nitrogen into a form (e.g., ammonia) available to the plant. Ultimately, symbiotic bacteria help the plant to grow and compete with other plants. When the plant dies, some fixed nitrogen is released, making it available to other plants and helping to fertilize the soil Ammonium nitrate is a chemical