Prof. John Howieson
Professor John Howieson is an internationally recognised expert in sustainable agriculture, specialising in the nitrogen fixation of legume crops.
His research includes selecting and developing root nodule bacteria as commercial inoculants for agricultural legumes, and selecting annual and perennial legumes for sustainable agriculture.
Developing sustainable agriculture across the world
One of the challenges for any community on the planet is producing food in a sustainable way. Researchers at Murdoch University are developing solutions for this using the legume plant family.
Legumes are unique in that they can grow without nitrogen fertiliser. They’re a valuable food source. That’s why the Centre for Rhizobium Studies is developing new legume strains for farmers to use as pasture plants.
Professor John Howieson researches how root nodule bacteria called rhizobium affect the development of legume crops. His expertise in using rhizobium to raise plant productivity in developing countries is renowned around the world.
Professor Howieson and his team are working in sub-Saharan Africa to help put rhizobium in legume crops people eat, like cowpeas, chickpeas and soybeans. They are also working with the Australian Centre For International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) to introduce pasture legumes into the grasslands of South Africa.
Developing new pasture plants is something that's only done here in WA. That's why one of the world's leading philanthropic foundations has made Murdoch University part of its $20 million project, taking rhizobium to 600,000 African farmers.
Legumes and nitrogen fixation
Legumes are a special class of plants that do not require fertiliser nitrogen. Instead, legumes form a symbiosis with soil bacteria called rhizobia. In special outgrowths on the legume roots, called nodules, nitrogen is taken from the air and changed into proteins that legumes can absorb. This process is called nitrogen fixation, and after photosynthesis, is estimated to be the most important biological process on the planet.
Nitrogen fixation by legumes is attractive for developing economies as it means they do not have to buy nitrogenous fertilisers. In addition, residues from the legumes enrich the soil and improve the production for subsequent crops.
Improving symbiotic nitrogen fixation in agricultural settings will have significant benefits for the environment. Fertilisers require huge amounts of fossil fuels to produce and the run-off of artificially applied nitrogen causes the eutrophication of waterways.
Legume plants also have the potential to drive bioenergy development from trees, promote carbon sequestration and the sustainable production of biofuels.