Re-engineering RhizobiumS Our winner in the biobricks lifeform category for our Mad Science Contest is Vijaykumar S. Meli. A graduate student at the National Institute for Plant Genome Research at the JNU Campus in New Delhi, Meli has imagined a way to use a rhizobial bacteria to make growing rice much cheaper. One of the big expenses for farmers growing rice is the artificial, nitrogen-rich fertilizer they need to feed their crops — not only is the fertilizer expensive, but it also causes pollution via the runoff from the fertilizer. Meli proposes a way to fix this by re-engineering a common rhizobial bacteria. Meli used biobricks to create a modified version of the rhizobium, which in its wild state creates nodules in the roots of legumes and helps them process nitrogen more efficiently. His re-engineered rhizobium would enter the roots of rice and help the plant process nitrogen more efficiently too. While rice normally absorb only 20-40% of nitrogen in fertilized soil, rice with nodules formed by rhizobium could potentially absorb 40-60%. That means farmers use less fertilizer, which is good for the pocketbook and good for the environment. Meli's new bacteria could be created in the lab today, with current technology. Right now he has a schematic for the new lifeform, described in his paper below. For creating this new Rhizobium, we're sending Meli to Hong Kong to participate in the fourth annual Synthetic Biology Conference. Here is his paper. Re-engineering RhizobiumS Re-engineering RhizobiumS Re-engineering RhizobiumS Re-engineering RhizobiumS Re-engineering RhizobiumS Re-engineering RhizobiumS Re-engineering RhizobiumS