Research and Teaching Blog
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Following a news release by LeAnn Ormsby based on our work, we have seen a flurry of media activity. These include a brief interviews by WICD15, the local ABC news channel, a couple radio interviews, a funny-cute news piece by NSF as well as the interview by FeedStuffs below
So, can corn be really taught how to fix nitrogen? The short answer is, yes, we believe so. The longer, more qualified answer is that there are a number of technologies such as genomics, metabolic engineering, microbial ecology and synthetic biology that are producing a lot of new science. These tools are being used to probe the secrets of complex ecosystems such as the root zone or rhizosphere of nitrogen-fixing plants such as soybeans and clover.
We hypothesize, that such ecosystems can be described in terms of the molecular interactions that take place between the microbial (both bacterial and fungal) and plant species. If we can understand these systems, then we can recreate some of these interactions in species that do not display them.
In asking these questions, we are not denying that these are very complex systems to begin with, and we cannot be certain we can actually replicate the subtleties and intricacies of this molecular trade as seen in nature. In reality, synthetic biology, which attempts to engineer biological systems such as the rhizosphere by modifying the existing gene regulatory systems within organisms is like no other engineering discipline. We have much to learn about the limits of Nature. How modifiable are these systems? What is the nature of the perturbations that we can 'get away with'?
As part of the synthetic biology community, we believe these questions need to be asked by ourselves, and they need to be asked early. We would like to keep this technology as transparent as we can. We recognize there are genuine feasibility, environmental and ethical concerns about such technologies and we want to be in a position of addressing them concurrently, as we develop the technology.
Please feel free to leave a comment or ask a question in the comments section below. I will do my best to address as many comments as I can.
- Kaustubh D. Bhalerao