Researchers from the Institute of Applied Ecology (IAE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) have developed a new plant-based inhibitor that can improve the efficiency and stability of fertilizers. The inhibitor, derived from natural plants, can slow down the breakdown of urea in the soil and increase the nitrogen uptake by crops. The research team has obtained a U.S. patent for their invention, which is the first of its kind in China.
Fertilizers are essential for boosting crop yields and ensuring food security. However, conventional fertilizers often contain synthetic inhibitors that can degrade quickly, cost more, and pose environmental risks. These inhibitors are designed to prevent the loss of nitrogen from the soil, which can occur due to the action of enzymes such as urease and nitrifiers. Nitrogen loss can reduce the effectiveness of fertilizers and cause pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
To address these challenges, researchers around the world have been looking for new and better inhibitors that can enhance the performance of fertilizers. Some international fertilizer companies, such as BASF of Germany and Euro Chem of Russia, have launched new products, such as LIMUS and DMPSA, but these are still based on earlier inhibitors, such as NBPT and DMPP, and have limited innovation.
The researchers from IAE have taken a different technical approach. They have extracted and screened a plant-derived inhibitor, called farnesene, from natural plants. Farnesene can effectively inhibit the activity of urease, an enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of urea. By doing so, farnesene can slow down the release of ammonia and nitrate from urea, and increase the availability of nitrogen for plants.
The team has tested the inhibitor in a microcosm experiment, and found that it can significantly improve the nitrogen utilization rate of fertilizers. They have also obtained a Chinese invention patent and a U.S. invention patent for their inhibitor, which is China's first plant-derived urease inhibitor to receive intellectual property protection in the US. This achievement fills the gap in the research field of plant-derived inhibitors in China, enriches the material library of inhibitors, and enhances the international competitiveness of the institute in the field of new fertilizers. It also provides strong technical support for the development of new green and stable fertilizers.
The inventors of the patent are Associate Researcher GONG Ping, Researcher ZHANG Lili, Researcher WU Zhijie, and Researcher LI Dongpo from the plant nutrition and fertilizer group of the institute’s “Efficient Utilization of Soil, Fertilizer and Water and Green Fertilizer Innovation” project.
Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences