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Schoolgirls may have solution to Africa food crisis

Schoolgirls  may have solution to Africa food crisis

Feb 22, 2015

Three Irish 16 year old girls – Émer Hickey, Ciara Judge, and Sophie Healy-Thow – took top honours in the Google Science Fair 2014. Their project, Combating the Global Food Crisis, aims to provide a solution to low crop yields by pairing a nitrogen-fixing bacteria that naturally occurs in the soil with cereal crops it does not normally associate with, such as barley and oats.

Experts have called the results were incredible: The girls found their test crops germinated in half the time and had a drymass yield up to 74 percent greater than usual.

Studying the food crisis in the Horn of Africa at the time, the teens – keen gardeners – were thinking of ways that may help the situation. Hickey pulled up some pea plants from her garden and took them to school to discuss strange nodules on the roots with their science teacher. According to a report in Inabitat.com, leguminous plants have a symbiotic relationship with diazatrophic rhizobia bacteria found in soil, which leads to nitrogen fixing in the soil, which can reduce the need for added chemical fertilisers.

Inhabitat says: “The girls decided to experiment with the effects of rhizobia on non-leguminous plants. After trialling over 10,000 barley and oat seeds, the results were astonishing. Two types of rhizobia in particular showed great potential for agricultural use.

“In their submission to the Google Science Fair, the girls stated: “These results have significant potential for increasing yields of food crops and reducing losses due to adverse weather conditions. They also offer opportunities for reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture by reducing fertiliser usage. As demand for cereals increases with population growth, this discovery could act as a partial solution to the impending food poverty crisis. There is potential for future work in this area and we plan to investigate the biochemical mechanism involved and carry out more extensive field trials.”

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