$3.9 million NSF research grant seeks to reduce crops' fertilizer dependence

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A research team including a Penn State chemical engineer was recently awarded a $3.9 million National Science Foundation grant to understand and emulate how cyanobacteria convert nitrogen into oxygen.

The three-year project, "Designing Nitrogen Fixing Ability in Oxygenic Photosynthetic Cells," includes Costas Maranas, the Donald B. Broughton Professor of Chemical Engineering at Penn State, and Washington University of St. Louis faculty members Himadri Pakrasi, the Myron and Sonya Glassberg/Albert and Blanche Greensfelder Distinguished Professor of Biology; Tae Seok Moon, assistant professor of energy, environmental and chemical engineering; and Fuzhong Zhang, assistant professor of energy, environmental and chemical engineering.

The work will model the nitrogen fixing ability in cyanobacteria which are single cell oxygenic photosynthetic organisms. The objective here is to learn how to "transplant" the nitrogen fixing capability of one such species to another. The hope is that this knowledge will eventually inform how to design nitrogen fixation in plants.

Because plants require nitrogen for growth, nitrogen is widely used in plant fertilizers. Its extensive use, however, may cause soil quality degradation and water source contamination.

By understanding how one species of cyanobacteria is able to absorb nitrogen, the researchers hope to alter crops so the plants can absorb nitrogen on their own, reducing dependence on artificial fertilizer.

Contacts: 

Costas Maranas

Work Phone: 
814-863-9958

Donald B. Broughton Professor of Chemical Engineering

Last Updated October 21, 2013