A corn variety named Sierra Mixe grows aerial roots that produce a sweet mucus that feeds bacteria that pulls nitrogen out of the air and fertilize the corn. The crop produces its own nitrogen which is groundbreaking.
Howard-Yana Shapiro (chief agricultural officer at Mars) found an old type of corn in southern Mexico and studied the nitrogen fixation of the crop. His research was funded by Mars and published in the journal of PLOS Biology. His research started 20 years ago but was kept in shelves.
This “nitrogen fixation” discovery may lead to a farming revolution, the second nitrogen revolution and the Golden Age of PLA (polylactic acid) if this trait can be bred into conventional corn. It could reduce the cost of farming, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce nitrogen pollution in lakes, rivers and oceans.
The largest PLA producer is NatureWorks who uses corn to produce their PLA. Natureworks is owned by Cargill, one of the largest corn producers. The, soon-to-be, second largest PLA producer is Total Corbion who will use sugar cane to produce their PLA.
The largest corn producers are, in order of importance: US, China and Brazil. The largest US states corn producers are: Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska.
Difference between Sierra Mixe and Conventional Corn
- Sierra Mixe is between 5 and 6 meters (16 to 20 feet), while conventional corn is usually around 3.65 metres (12 feet).
- Sierra Mixe takes 6 to 8 month to mature while the conventional corn takes 3 months.
- Sierra Mixe grows in poor soil without using any fertilizers, while the conventional corn needs a lot of fertilizers.
- Sierra Mixe corn has aerial roots, green and rose-colored, finger-like, sticking out of the corn’s stalk, dripping with a clear, syrupy gel.
- Sierra Mixe produces its own nitrogen.
Nitrogen is an essential nutrient that is usually applied through fertilizers in huge quantities.
Other cereals, such as Sorghum have aerial roots and mucilage. We know that India is betting on Sorghum to develop their future bioplastics industry.