Research roundup

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Nitrogen test will increase profit and sustainability
Elisabeth Aerts
Nitrogen (N), an essential element required for plant growth, is vital to crop health. Side dressing allows farmers to better target nitrogen applications, but determining if side dressing is necessary can be expensive using traditional soil tests.

Professor Manish Raizada, of the Department of Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph, is leading a team that is creating a more cost-effective N test.

Raizada’s test measures the amount of glutamine, a nitrogen rich amino acid present in plants. This test is cheaper than the conventional test (around $1 per sample) because it requires less expertise to analyze.

Raizada and his team created a genetically engineered microorganism called GlnLux. When GlnLux reacts with glutamine within plant samples, it produces light. The amount of light produced is measured by a tool called a luminometer.

The luminometer provides a positive reading when the plant has a sufficient amount of glutamine (meaning the plant does not require more nitrogen) and a negative reading when the plant has low glutamine levels (meaning it requires more nitrogen).

To achieve accuracy, multiple plant samples from the same field are required, similar to a traditional soil test.

So far, the GlnLux test has been tested in field trials at the Elora Research Station, and shortly testing will begin in Nepal, where Raizada is working to improve the sustainability of rural farmers.

Collaborators on this project include Professor Bill Deen and Dr. Malinda Thilakarathna, Department of Plant Agriculture, graduate student Travis Goron, and Greg Stewart, formerly with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

This research is funded by OMAFRA, Grain Farmers of Ontario, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the International Development and Research Centre. 


Research Roundup is provided by members of SPARK (Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge) at the University of Guelph’s Office of Research. For more information, contact a SPARK writer at 519-824-4120, ext. 52667.

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