Michael Thomas tells us about his research to replace synthetic fertilizers with sustainable alternatives to help solve the problem of rising global food demand.
My current projects study the impact of using a beneficial bacterium (Gluconacetobacter diazotrophicus) to coat plant seeds, in order to create a symbiotic relationship within crop plants. This enables them to substitute the nitrogen they normally take up from the soil with atmospheric nitrogen, thus reducing dependency on nitrogen fertilizers.
The continued use of synthetic nitrogen-based fertilizers is no longer sustainable. The world’s population is estimated to reach 10 billion by 2050 and demand for food will increase proportionally. The options farmers are left with is to either farm more land or produce better yields from the land we currently have with fewer inputs. Climate-smart agriculture will depend on a greater use of biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) in order to feed this growing population.
I am responsible for delivering projects that will make a significant contribution to providing a sustainable, natural BNF alternative to synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. Our technology provides a solution for farmers to produce more from less, using natural symbiotic biological systems adapted towards our agricultural systems. This has the potential to benefit farmers globally from highly optimized and intensive agricultural systems in the developed world to subsistence farmers in Asia.
Q: What kind of mindset do you need to achieve the Next Great Impossible?
A: As with any disruptive technology that has the potential to greatly improve people's quality of life and provide a sustainable solution to carbon emissions, the mindset needed is one of curiosity, determination, and a necessity to embrace change.