Yes, We -- Corn.
I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.
Since we're about to talk about corn, I'll dispense with the usual, "all-ears," "aw, shucks," "kernel-of-truth," "shock-value," "flakey," "husky," "stalky," "cob- bled," "corn-y" references that usually go with corn stories.
This is about what may be a way for corn-growers to stop pouring tons of nitrogen fertilizer into the soil. It's a multi-disciplinary research project led by scientists from the University of Illinois. The team is working in the relatively new field (no pun intended) of synthetic biology -- kind of a melding of science and engineering that develops novel biological systems and functions.
In the case of corn, having the plant "fix" its own nitrogen -- eliminating the need for much of the outside fertilizer. Soybeans do this naturally by actually communicating with the bacteria in the soil. The message is sent out from the roots: (SOUND EFFECT: on speaker: "your attention please") to get the bacteria to come and hang out there and colonize.
Bacteria are usually free-livin' soil organisms, but soybeans and bacteria have made a "special arrangement:" "I give you sugars through my roots and you fix nitrogen that I can use to grow." The researchers hope to develop a system that lets corn plants do the same thing.
(SOUND EFFECT: country field) If successful, corn may be able to provide nutrients for itself.
Self-fertilizing corn -- A-maize-ing. Sorry. (SOUND EFFECT: corn popping) I'm still waiting for corn that pops and butters itself.
"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.