Roots in the Air

  • 15 August 2018
  • Author: Frederika Bain
  • Number of views: 4442
Roots in the Air

Michael Kantar (TPSS) was quoted in a recent article in The Atlantic discussing a new study about nitrogen fixation in a particular variety of corn. The corn, a landrace from the Sierra Mixe region of Mexico, has aerial roots that exude a clear gel that’s rich in bacteria. This bacteria helps the corn to use nitrogen from the atmosphere, allowing it to grow to heights of up to sixteen feet despite the nitrogen-poor soil in which it’s grown and the lack of added fertilizer. Michael praised the study but pointed out that it doesn’t necessarily support the authors’ hope that other varieties of corn can be bred to have a similar nitrogen-fixing property. This particular variety of corn grows too slowly to be commercially viable, and it’s not clear that any corn bred with this property would be able to grow fast enough to be profitable, not to mention the possibility that the genetic alteration might lead to undesirable characteristics. But, he says, “if these questions can be resolved, this may provide a way to significantly reduce fertilizer use worldwide, which would have hugely beneficial environmental effects.”