A multidisciplinary research team from the University of California, Davis, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and Mars, Incorporated have discovered that an indigenous variety of corn from Mexico can "fix nitrogen" from the atmosphere instead of requiring synthetic fertilizers. The study found that a corn variety growing in Mexico's Sierra Mixe region gets 28-82 percent of its nitrogen from the atmosphere. The corn grows a series of aerial roots that secrete a gel-like substance or mucilage. The mucilage provides the low-oxygen and sugar-rich environment that attracts bacteria that can transform nitrogen from the air into a form the corn can use. "Our research has demonstrated that the mucilage found in this Sierra Mixe corn forms a key component of its nitrogen fixation," said co-author Jean-Michel Ané, professor of Agronomy and Bacteriology in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at UW–Madison. "We have shown this through growth of the plant both in Mexico and Wisconsin."
Photo Credit: UC Davis