The Nitrogen Fixation in Cereals Project Enters Phase III

Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) receives $6.2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for development of biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) in cereals. This bioengineering project aims at developing cereal crops for small-holder farmers in the developing world that require less fertilizer and will produce higher and more resilient yields in an environmentally sustainable manner. This project will be carried out by an international consortium led by UPM Professor and CBGP researcher Luis Rubio.


Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) receives $6.2 million grant for biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) in cereals development from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This Project, led by Dr. Luis Rubio from Centro de Biotecnología y Genómica de Plantas (CBGP) of Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) and Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria (INIA), aims at obtaining cereal crops with minimum requirements for nitrogen fertilizer that will produce higher and more resilient yields in an environmentally sustainable manner. With this third round of funding, the foundation continues to fund a project initiated by Prof. Rubio in 2011. This research will contribute to the on-going CBGP (UPM-INIA) endeavors to use cutting-edge biotechnology to sustainably improve crop productivity for small-holder, precommercial farmers in the developing world, and highlights the research carried out at UPM.


Nitrogen fertilization of crops is required to feed around half of the world population. However, massive application of these fertilizers has severe environmental and economic costs, prohibitively so in many developing countries. The BNF-Cereals project focuses on synthetic biology and bioengineering approaches to endow farmer-preferred cereal varieties, particularly those adapted for low- and middle-income countries, with the ability to carry out Biological Nitrogen Fixation, thus allowing them to thrive under low or limited nitrogen availability. This is being undertaken via the introduction of the nitrogenase pathway –naturally found only in nitrogen-fixing bacteria– into plant mitochondria and plastids. It builds on important progress from previous BNF Cereals investments in which nitrogenase components have been successfully produced in plants. As nitrogenase requires large amounts of iron and molybdenum, Phase III also aims to reinforce plant metal allocation to this enzyme.


BNF-Cereals project Phase III is an international collaborative effort with the participation of renowned researchers in the areas of biochemistry of nitrogen fixation, metal homeostasis, and synthetic biology. The consortium includes the laboratories of Dr. Luis Rubio and Dr. Manuel González Guerrero, at CBGP (UPM-INIA), Dr. Dennis Dean, from the Department of Biochemistry at Virginia Tech (USA), and Dr. Leonardo Curatti, from Fundación para Investigaciones Biológicas Aplicadas (Argentina).


Luis Rubio is a recognized expert in biochemistry of nitrogen fixation. He is group leader at CBGP (UPM-INIA), a research center with the seal of Excellence Severo Ochoa of the Spanish Research Agency. CBGP (UPM-INIA) is focused on the study of plants and associated microorganisms. Previously Luis Rubio conducted nitrogenase research at the Universities of Wisconsin-Madison and California-Berkeley, and he was awarded a prestigious Starting Grant from the European Research Council upon his moving to CBGP (UPM-INIA). His laboratory there led the first (2011-2016) and second (2016-2020) phases of the BNF-Cereals project that now continues. Luis is a regular speaker and member of the Steering Committees of both the European Nitrogen Fixation Conference and the International Congress on Nitrogen Fixation.


Manuel González Guerrero is a recognized expert in plant metal homeostasis. He joined UPM and the CBGP (UPM-INIA) as a Ramón y Cajal Fellow, after holding postdoctoral positions at University of Guelph, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Biochemistry and Plant Molecular Physiology (CNRS-INRA-SupAgro) institute. He was awarded a Starting Grant from the European Research Council and is currently a group leader at CBGP (UPM-INIA), where he studies metal homeostasis in plant-microbe interactions.


More information.

Video del proyecto BNF Cereals Phase III

Video del evento



The Centre for Plant Genomics and Biotechnology (CBGP) is a joint research institute UPM / INIA whose mission is to carry out fundamental and strategic research in plant science and associated microorganisms. In particular, research lines are focused on the study of plant development, their nutritional mechanisms and their interaction with the environment. The knowledge acquired is used to address the main problems of agriculture and forestry today, as well as to develop new technological solutions.


CBGP was created with a double goal: to carry out the most advanced research aimed at understanding plant function, and to contribute to fulfil the needs of the economic agents within the agriculture, forestry and environment productive sectors that are potential users of this research. CBGP also seeks to have an educational role and strives to become a reference centre for training of both scientists and technicians in the fields of plant biotechnology and genomics, an area not fully developed in Spain at present. The CBGP (UPM-INIA) has been recognized by the Spanish Research Agency as a Severo Ochoa Center of Excellence, the highest institutional recognition of excellence in scientific research in Spain.