Worst science by press release of the year: nitrogen fixation in crops

Well, this is one heck of a science – by – press release case.

Was pointed to this press release: World-Changing Technology Enables Crops to Take Nitrogen from the Air which comes to us from the University of Nottingham.  It makes some really bold claims like

A major new technology has been developed by The University of Nottingham, which enables all of the world’s crops to take nitrogen from the air rather than expensive and environmentally damaging fertilisers


This ground-breaking development potentially provides every cell in the plant with the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. The implications for agriculture are enormous as this new technology can provide much of the plant’s nitrogen needs.


Applied to the cells of plants (intra-cellular) via the seed, it provides every cell in the plant with the ability to fix nitrogen. Plant seeds are coated with these bacteria in order to create a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship and naturally produce nitrogen.


N-Fix is a natural nitrogen seed coating that provides a sustainable solution to fertiliser overuse and Nitrogen pollution. It is environmentally friendly and can be applied to all crops. Over the last 10 years, The University of Nottingham has conducted a series of extensive research programmes which have established proof of principal of the technology in the laboratory, growth rooms and glasshouses.


There is a substantial global market for the N-Fix technology, as it can be applied globally to all crops. N-Fix has the power to transform agriculture, while at the same time offering a significant cost benefit to the grower through the savings that they will make in the reduced costs of fertilisers. It is a great example of how University research can have a world-changing impact.


The proof of concept has already been demonstrated. The uptake and fixation of nitrogen in a range of crop species has been proven to work in the laboratory and Azotic is now working on field trials in order to produce robust efficacy data. This will be followed by seeking regulatory approval for N-Fix initially in the UK, Europe, USA, Canada and Brazil, with more countries to follow.

Sounds f$*@#$# awesome.  So awesome that it was picked up by multiple news sources including
The only problem is – they don’t present any evidence.  None.  No data.  No paper.  No poster.  Nothing.  It is simply a press release with a bunch of words. Ridiculous.  I think I am going to announce I have a way to not only get all crops to fix nitrogen, but that it will work by telepathy.  This is one of the worst science-by-press-release cases I have ever ever seen.

UPDATE 7/27/13

Richard Conniff, who was the one who pointed me to the PR has a post about this too: http://strangebehaviors.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/best-news-ever-in-agriculture-or-utter-bullshit/

Author: Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

10 thoughts on “Worst science by press release of the year: nitrogen fixation in crops”

  1. COCKING, E.C., STONE, P.J. and DAVEY, M.R., 2006. Intracellular colonization of roots of Arabidopsis and crop plants by Gluconacetobacter diazotrophicus In Vitro Cellular and Developmental Biology – Plant. 42(1), 74-82


  2. I fully agree with Jonathan that the published data do not justify the grossly over-hyped claims in this press release. However, as someone who has worked in this field for many years, I am concerned that such claims can detrimentally influence the perception of the legitimate and peer-reviewed research being done by many others in this area. It would be inappropriate, based on the sort of claims made in this press release, to judge the genuine attempts by others to try to enhance biological nitrogen fixation in association with crop plants.


  3. no – this certainly seems plausible – and many are working on getting nitrogen fixation to work in cereals — but it is not simple and to claim that it works so well and so broadly to simply use this one bacterium without any evidence is misleading and a bad thing — and it makes it quite difficult forothers who are working in this area and trying to be careful


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