Murdoch develops vital tool for sustainable farming

June 21, 2016

Prof John Howieson has helped to compile a farming manual for the 21st centuryMurdoch scientists have produced an important farming aid that may offer practical ways to support sustainable agriculture and improve soil fertility.

Murdoch University’s Professor John Howieson and Emeritus Professor Mike Dilworth have produced the first legume-rhizobia techniques manual in more than 30 years for all those working in the field of symbiotic nitrogen fixation.

The Working with Rhizobia manual brings together state-of-the-art methods for the study of root-nodule bacteria, both in the free-living state and in symbiosis with legumes.

“The manual is especially relevant for farmers in agricultural systems that are constrained by nitrogen infertility, but who cannot afford the high cost of manufactured fertiliser,” said Professor Howieson.

“The nitrogen-fixing symbiosis between legumes and soil bacteria (known as rhizobia) is fundamental to sustainable agriculture. While synthetic nitrogen fertilisers have boosted agricultural outputs, they require large amounts of fossil fuels, whose burning increases production of greenhouse gases.

“In contrast, rhizobia are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen and supply it to their legume partners, and so can provide food and fibre to a growing world population while maintaining soil fertility and the natural environment."

Working with Rhizobia is an important farming aidWorking with Rhizobia introduces a topic in each chapter and provides guidance on how study of the symbiosis might best be tackled.

The manual provides detailed descriptions of the protocols that need to be followed and outlines potential problems and pitfalls.

“This manual is a very practical guide covering topics such as acquiring, recognising, growing and storing rhizobia,” Professor Howieson said.

“We also include details about experimenting with strains in the laboratory, glasshouse and field, and applying contemporary molecular and genetic methodologies to assist in the study of rhizobia.”

The book was launched recently at the 27th Latin American Nitrogen Fixation meeting in Brazil and is currently being translated into Portuguese, Spanish and Mandarin.

Research support for this manual was provided by Murdoch University, ACIAR, the Crawford Fund and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (through the N2Africa project), and Australian Wool Innovation and the Grains Research and Development Council (through the National Rhizobium Program).

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