Montana State University

International conference on nitrogen fixation to be held June 14-19 in Big Sky

June 4, 2009 -- From MSU News Service

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- Approximately 220 scientists from around the globe will gather in Big Sky June 14-19 for a conference dealing with nitrogen fixation.

The topic is of paramount importance for global nutrition, said John Peters, one of four organizers at Montana State University. Besides the United States, participants in the 16th International Congress on Nitrogen Fixation will come from China, India, Iran, Russia, Africa and most of the countries in Europe.

"Nitrogen fixation is one of the most important subject areas relating to the support of life on Earth," Peters said.

Conference participants will discuss all aspects of nitrogen fixation, ranging from basic science to applied science, Peters said. Topics will cover everything from the biochemical mechanisms behind nitrogen fixation to the growth of legumes. Legumes, such as soybeans and peas, have root nodules that let bacteria infect the plant. The bacteria allow the plants to take nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it into ammonia in the soil.

"You can do this chemically, but bacteria can do this biologically," Peters said.

Understanding nitrogen fixation will help scientists in a variety of ways, Peters added. They might be able to engineer additional plants, like wheat, that could fix nitrogen in the soil. They might learn how to produce more nitrogen from plants and find better ways to fix nitrogen so farmers can rely less on nitrogen fertilizers.

In addition to Peters, MSU organizers of the upcoming conference are Tim McDermott, Clain Jones and Perry Miller in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences.

The international congress meets every other year and brings together scientists and technologists who study the chemistry, biochemistry, genetics, regulation, physiology, ecology and evolution of the nitrogen-fixation process. They also analyze interactions between microbes and plants and animals; natural resource conservation, forestry, sustainable agriculture and food production.

For more information on the conference at Big Sky, visit the Web at

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or