Rhizobia are soil bacteria that can form a symbiotic relationship with legumes such as common domesticated crops such as peas, beans or clovers. These symbiotic bacteria fix atmospheric nitrogen inside nodules formed on the legume roots contributing around 65% of the nitrogen currently used in agricultural production.
A joint venture has been established between the Centre for Rhizobium Studies (CRS) led by Dr Wayne Reeve at Murdoch University (Australia) and the Joint Genome Institute (JGI, USA) led by the Head of the Microbial Program Dr Nikos Kyrpides to completely decipher the genetic code for 100 different rhizobial strains at a cost of approximately $10 million.
The CRS team (Dr Wayne Reeve, Prof John Howieson, Assoc. Prof Graham O’Hara, Assoc Prof Matt Bellgard, Dr Ravi Tiwari, Dr Lambert Brau and Dr Vanessa Melino) will be tackling the mammoth task of completely sequencing the genomes of rhizobia selected from distinct geographical regions across the globe.
Thirty scientists from 15 countries across the globe have been asked to participate in this project.
Project leader Dr Wayne Reeve said this unique collaboration was the first large scale attempt to unravel the complexities of how genetics and environmental factors contribute to the success of rhizobia with legume crops and pastures.
“To put our project into perspective, we will be generating twice the amount of sequence information generated from the human genome sequencing project,” Dr Reeve said.
“The aim is to complete these bacterial genomes and then to relate this wealth of new information to the environment, and discover traits for competitiveness, legume compatibility, and efficiency of nitrogen fixation.”
Improving symbiotic nitrogen fixation in agricultural settings will have significant benefits for the environment as fertilisers require huge amounts of fossil fuels to produce and the run off of artificially applied nitrogen causes the eutrophication of waterways. Legumes also have the potential to drive bioenergy development from trees, promote carbon sequestration and the sustainable production of biofuels.
The team aim to have the project completed within two years.