Københavns Universitet

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Breaking the dogma to boost the new generation of environmentally friendly fertilizers at Københavns Universitet

According to the central dogma in plant nutrition, plants only obtain phosphorus from the soil in the form of simple inorganic phosphate salts. Based on this, millions of tonnes of inorganic phosphate fertilizers are added to farming soils every year. Use of these fertilizers is costly, due to the scarcity of inorganic phosphate reserves, and is also the main cause freshwater pollution in the planet.

In contrast to this dogma, our group has demonstrated that plant roots contain transporters (ALA proteins) that use expensive cellular energy resources (ATP) to take up phospholipids. Moreover, plants degrade phospholipids taken up by the root and use their hydrocarbon chains for synthesis of new lipids. The open question is: Can plants use phospholipids as a source of essential nutrients that are growth limiting, such as phosphorus?

The objective of this project is to demonstrate that plants can use the phospholipid uptake systems in the root to obtain phosphate, thereby improving their survival under phosphorus deficiency. This will totally break the dogma that plants only use simple salts as nutrient sources, change our view of plant-microbiome interactions, and pave the way for a greener generation of phosphate fertilizers.

Some of the possible approaches could be:

  • Phenotypic and molecular characterization of plants grown on hydroponic cultures containing phospholipids as a source of phosphate
  • Microbial and elemental analysis of growth media
  • ICP-MS analysis of plant phosphorus content
  • CRISPR/Cas9 deletion/upregulation of ALA phospholipid transporters in the root
  • Analysis of phosphate incorporation in biomolecules using tracers

The project will be embedded within the NovoCrops Challenge project financed by the Novo Nordisk Foundation. The work will be carried out in the Section for Transport Biology, Department for Plant and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science at Copenhagen University, under the supervision of Associate Professor Rosa L. Lopez-Marques (rlo@plen.ku.dk).

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