Using maths to grow food πŸŒ±

With the world population growing by around 80,000,000 people per year 🌍, we are facing the challenge to ensure worldwide food security whilst dealing with increasingly degraded soils available for crop production πŸ‘©β€πŸŒΎ. In the developed world, synthetic fertilizers are often used to make sure that crops have the nutrients they need to grow. This is extremely damaging to the environment, however, due to the resultant contamination of water suppliesπŸ’§and emissions released during production contributing to climate change β˜€οΈ ❄️.

Although soils may have low levels of nutrients, over 78% of our atmosphere is nitrogen πŸ’¨! Plants are unable to use this themselves; however, special β€˜Nitrogen-fixing’ bacteria in the soil are able to take this nitrogen and transform it into a form that can be used by plants πŸ”. A solution to eliminating the need for synthetic fertilizers is, therefore, the formation of these interactions between plants and the special soil microbes 🦠. Currently, legumes such as peas and beans are able to do this, but the most important and widely used cereal crops such as wheat 🌾, rice 🍚 and maize cannot; this is where the maths comes in! πŸŽ‰

Maths can be used to simulate the series of chemical reactions that must take place in plant root cells, on detection of these microbes, in order to utilize the nutrients. In doing this, it has been discovered that specific patterns of calcium concentration are required πŸ“ˆ. Mathematical equations are then used to model the movement of calcium through the cell, as well as the reactions between calcium and other ‘messenger’ molecules. This involves using computer programmes to simulate changes in calcium patterns between the time when the microbe arrives at the root and when the nutrients are transferred into a form that can be used by plants. If we can understand these processes in legumes, then we can encourage crop plants to do the same!πŸŒΎπŸŽ‰

Similar models of calcium signal generation are also used in human applications. For example, it is an elevation of calcium concentration in the heart that allows it to beat! Abnormal patterns of calcium in the heart can cause electrical malfunctions and an irregular heartbeat ❀️.

This research is being undertaken by Hayley Mills at the University of Nottingham. πŸ™ŒπŸ»

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