We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

Nitro Corn to the (Potential) Rescue!

Scientists found corn that makes its own fertilizer, sort of.

By Mark Barna
Jan 1, 2019 6:00 PMJan 3, 2020 11:35 PM
N-fixing Corn Oaxaca - PLOS ONE
(Credit: A. Van Deynze et al. 2018 PLOS Biology)


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

For decades, scientists have tried to coax corn to create its own fertilizer. A team of researchers has found one corn variety, in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, that’s been producing its own fertilizer all along. The discovery, published in PLOS Biology in August, could transform how the crop is produced worldwide. 

Commercial plant fertilizers typically include nitrogen, which helps grow healthy crops but also causes environmental damage. This Oaxacan corn variety develops prominent, fingerlike aerial roots that secrete a carbohydrate-rich goo. The mucilage supports bacteria that convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form the plant can use. If the trait can be bred into other crop varieties, it could mean less nitrogen from artificial fertilizers in the environment — and big cost savings for growers. Researchers are exploring the possibility.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.