Did You Know Love Helps Crops Grow?  

A heart made of many green soybean

Having just celebrated Valentine’s Day, did you know about the ancient love story which takes place underground? The pea and bean family of plants (legumes) enjoy a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria (rhizobia) to make their own fertilizers. This very special and intimate association leads to formation of root nodules in which bacteria have everything they need to convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium (a form of nitrogen, which is essential for plant growth) [1].

Nitrogen is an abundant gas in air, but can’t be used by plants in this form. This relationship between bacteria and plants is unique to legumes. Other crops, like cereals, don’t have this ability, which is why farmers include legumes in crop rotations.

Transferring this symbiotic relationship to other crops could have a huge positive impact on food production, soil health and environmental sustainability. That’s why researchers are trying to better understand how these enduring “love” partners are able to be so devoted to each other [2].

[1] How Nitrogen-Fixing Plants Enrich the Soil (MasterClass)

[2] Are we there yet? The long walk towards the development of efficient symbiotic associations between nitrogen-fixing bacteria and non-leguminous crops (BMC Biology)