Urease in Agriculture

There continues to be a large global effort to achieve better food security in today’s agriculture industry. Given the growing world population, finding a solution to help achieve better security is essential. One method is to speed up crop growth using specialist fertilisers that contain urea. Critically however, urea has a number of negative consequences for the environment. This impact could be mitigated by our Watercress Protein-Fibre, which could be effective in reducing the environmental hazards associated with urea fertilisers.

We are keen to test the effectiveness of our Watercress Protein Fibre on agricultural fertilisers.

Take a look below to see how watercress could be useful in agriculture:

Problems with urea fertilisers?

The main problems with urea-based fertilisers are the negative impacts on the environment; they cause gaseous pollutants which increase greenhouse gases, pollute water, cause eutrophication (excessive rich nutrients in a body of water, caused by land run off, creating a dense growth of plants) and lower plants’ nitrogen recovery.

How urease inhibitors can help in agriculture?

Urease inhibitors stop urea from hydrolysing (chemically breaking down when water is around) into ammonia. It also protects urea from ammonia volatilisation (ammonium is converted to ammonia gas at high pH), keeping nitrogen based fertilisers in their urea form. Ammonia is a large source of harmful nitrogen pollution, through soil acidification, toxic damage to leaves, and altering the susceptibility of plants to frost, drought and pathogens.

As urea is highly water soluble, urease inhibitors allow time for water (rainfall/irrigation) to move urea into the soil. Once urea reaches just 2-3 inches into the soil, it is protected from ammonia volatilization. Urease inhibitors break down with time but generally protect against ammonia loss from fertilisers which have been surface applied for around two weeks. This is dependent on temperature and moisture conditions.

The enzyme urease catalyses (speeds up) the hydrolysis (chemical breakdown) of urea into two molecules of ammonia (NH3) and one mole of carbon dioxide (CO2). Urease is a key enzyme when it comes to the global nitrogen cycle, as it is fairly commonly found in bacteria, algae, plants, fungi and animal waste.

Our Watercress Protein-Fibre has urease inhibiting properties (see 'What is Urease'), implying that with further testing and trials it may be a solution to reducing the negative impacts of urea fertilisers on soils and the environment.

How can urease inhibitors reduce pollution?

NH3 (ammonia) forms on the soil surface when using a urea fertiliser such as nitrogen and this can then convert into the pollutant N2O (nitrous oxide). A study of several agricultural soils showed that urease inhibitors can reduce N2O and NO (nitric oxide) emissions by up to 5%. Currently, the urease inhibitors that are available commercially vary in effectiveness according to the soil on which they are used. We haven’t tested our Watercress Protein-Fibre as a fertiliser yet. However, this is a promising line of enquiry which we are looking to trial.