Teens Win Google Science Prize for N-Fixing in Cereal Crops


The concept of nitrogen fixation in cereal crops is getting some mainstream attention after a trio of 16 year-olds from Ireland won an international prize for their work with nitrogen-fixing bacteria in wheat, barley and oats.

The prizes for the 2014 Google Science Fair — the world’s largest science competition for teenagers — were handed out earlier this week. The grand prize was awarded to Émer Hickey, Sophie Healy-Thow and Ciara Judge for their study entitled “Combatting the Global Food Crisis: Diazotroph Bacteria as a Crop Growth Promoter” (read the details here.)

Related: How far are we from N-Fixing Wheat, Canola and Corn?

Referencing existing research, including work by Don Smith at McGill University in Montreal, they analyzed 9,500 seed samples in 125 experimental sets and found cereal crops treated with rhyzobium bacteria (r.japonicum and r.leguminosarum) germinated faster by approximately 50 percent. They also saw yield increases averaging 30 percent, and up to 70 percent in some cases.

“Food security is becoming an increasing problem, with many causes — one being failed crops,” say the grade 10 students in the video below. “It is our hope that increased germination rates and dry mass yield will help relieve some of the problems involving crop growth.”

As part of the grand prize, the girls win a trip to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic, a visit to the Virgin Galactic Spaceport to see astronauts preparing for space flight and a $50 thousand scholarship.

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