Reward for new sustainable fertiliser

Wednesday 26 Sep 2018

In Sweden, the 2018 Marcus Wallenberg Prize will be awarded to Professor Torgny Nasholm for having documented how organic nitrogen dominates the nutrition of trees in boreal forests. The findings have resulted in new types of fertilisers.

Professor Torgny Nasholm, from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, has examined the role of amino acids in supplying the nitrogen required for the growth of forest trees. His work has caused a paradigm shift in explaining the nutrition of plants.For his discoveries he was awarded the 2018 Marcus Wallenberg Prize of SEK 2 million Earluier this week he received his diploma from the hands of King Carl XVI Gustaf at a ceremony in Stockholm.

With a little help of amino acids - The ability of boreal forests to take up atmospheric carbon dioxide and produce wood depends on the availability of nitrogen in the soil. The growth of most forests is however limited by a low supply of nitrogen.

Some species have developed symbioses with bacteria that can process nitrogen gas into amino acids.More than a century ago some plants were demonstrated to have the capability of taking up amino acids directly. The process was not considered important until the isotopic methods were further developed and could simplify chemical analyses of different elements.

Nasholm has in different studies since 1998 investigated the nutrition of forest trees – particularly Scots pine and Norway spruce. He found that nitrogen from amino acids was taken up by tree seedlings and discovered that the amino acid concentrations in forest soils are high enough to provide a substantial supply for tree uptake. He could also testify that the major nitrogen source of pine and spruce in boreal forests is amino acids rather than ammonium ions or nitrate.

Environmentally friendly - The new insights inspired Torgny Nasholm to develop fertilisers based on amino acids. Field studies revealed the improvement of shoot and root growth when seedlings were grown on this organic nitrogen source. Leaching of nitrogen during seedling cultivation in nurseries was also reduced significantly compared to conventional inorganic fertilisers.

The findings have had an impact on nursery and forestry practices in coniferous forests in the Nordic countries.

The first patent for this approach was issued in 2000 and a fertiliser called Argrow, based on the amino acid arginine, was introduced on the market. Arginine is a nitrogen rich amino acid that is rapidly absorbed by plants. The fertiliser is mainly used in forest nurseries in Sweden, and tests have been performed in Finland, USA, Canada, Uruguay, China, New Zealand and Australia. It is also being tested on other commercial crops and garden plants.

The innovation has been further developed and a new category of patented, slow release fertiliser based on arginine is currently being tested in large scale field trials in Finland and Sweden.

Seedpad is an example of another new technology for improved germination of pine and spruce seeds, that Arevo AB, Umea, Sweden recently developed. Nasholm is the CEO.

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