The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is standing up a new “center of excellence” in an effort to reduce the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer by 12%, the equivalent of removing 10 million cars from the road.

Employing cross-disciplinary teams of scientists, the Subterranean Influences on Nitrogen and Carbon (SINC) Center of Excellence “aims to improve the sustainability of agriculture by developing technologies to track the flow of nitrogen and carbon across plant roots, discovering novel beneficial microbes, and understanding the genetic mechanisms that influence these interactions,” the Danforth center said.

Soil microbes that enhance nitrogen fixation are already being commercialized by dozens of companies, but Rebecca Bart, director of the SINC center, said it can play a unique role through its status as a nonprofit institution conducting “foundational science” that can help determine what works and what doesn’t.

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In addition, despite the numerous products already on the market, Bart said there is plenty left to explore given the “millions of microbes” in existence.

“We really are just starting to scratch the surface,” she said.

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