Plant Biotechnology Handbook

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Plant Biotechnology Handbook

Author: NIIR Board
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 8186623833
Code: NI117
Pages: 550
Price: Rs. 1,100.00   US$ 125.00

Published: 2004
Publisher: National Institute of Industrial Research
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Plant biotechnology is a precise process in which scientific techniques are used to develop molecular and cellular based technologies to improve plant productivity, quality and health; to improve the quality of plant products; or to prevent, reduce or eliminate constraints to plant productivity caused by diseases, pest organisms and environmental stresses. It can be defined as human intervention on plant material by means of technological instruments in order to produce permanent effects, and includes genetic engineering and gene manipulation to obtain transgenic plants. Plant genetic engineering is used to produce new inheritable combinations by introducing external DNA to plant material in an unnatural way. The results are genetically modified plants (GMPs) or transgenic plants. The key instrument used in plant biotechnology is the plant tissue culture (PTC) technique which refers to the in vitro culture of protoplasts, cells, tissues and organs. Plant biotechnology in use today relies on advanced technology, which allows plant breeders to make precise genetic changes to impart beneficial traits to plants. The application of biotechnology in agriculture has resulted in benefits to farmers, producers and consumers. Plant biotechnology has helped make both insect pest control and weed management safer and easier while safeguarding plants against disease. The worldwide demand for food, feed and modern textile fibers can only be met in the future with the help of plant biotechnology. It has the potential to open up whole new business areas that will totally redefine the current market scope and perception.
This book majorly deals with the organisms of biotechnology, herbicide resistant plants, transgenic plants with improved storage proteins, engineering for preservation of fruits, enhancing the photosynthetic efficiency, basic requirements for nitrogen fixation, animal and plant cell cultures , insecticides, cellular characteristics which influence the choice of cell , the growth of animal and plant cells immobilized within a confining matrix, virus free clones through plant tissue culture , microbial metabolism of carbon dioxide , organisms involved in the conversion of hydrogen, hydrogen utilization by aerobic hydrogen oxidizing bacteria, overproduction of microbial metabolites, regulation of metabolite synthesis etc.
The book contains measurement of plant cell growth, plant tissue culture, initiation of embryo genesis in suspension culture, micro propagation in plants, isolation of plant DNA and many more. This is very helpful book for entrepreneurs, consultants, students, institutions, researchers etc.

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Related Books


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1. The organisms of biotechnology
Cells - The Basic Units
Types of Microorganism
Tissue Cultures
Animal Cells
Plant Cells
2. Transgenic plants
Herbicide Resistant Plants
1. Glyphosate Tolerant Plants
2. Sulphonylurea Tolerant Plants
3. Atrazine Tolerant Plants
4. Phosphinothricin Tolerant Plants
5. Bromoxynil Tolerant Plants
Insect Resistant Plants
1. Transgenic Plants with Bt Toxin
        2. Transgenic Plants with Bt Toxin and Serine Protease
  Inhibitor Gene
3. Transgenic Plants with Cowpea Trypsin Inhibitor
4. Transgenic Plants with Nicotiana alata Proteinase Inhibitor
Virus Resistant Plants
1. Transgenic Plants with Viral Coat Protein
2. Transgenic Plants with Viral Nucleoprotein
3. Transgenic Plants with Viral SAT RNA
4. Transgenic Plants with Antisense RNA
Transgenic Plants Resistant to Fungi and Bacteria
Transgenic Plants with Improved Storage Proteins
Sweet Proteins
Enriching the Carbohydrate Contents
Improving the Quality of Oils and Fats
Male Sterility and Fertility Restoration
Changing the Flower Colours
Stress Tolerant Plants
Cold Tolerant Plants
Drought Tolerant Plants
Plant Tolerant to High Light Intensity
Engineering for Preservation of Fruits
Enhancing the Photosynthetic Efficiency
Transgenic Plants as Bioreactors
Pharmaceutical Compounds
Biodegradable Plastics
3. Biological Nitrogen fixations
Non-symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation
Features Favourable for Non-symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation
1. Special separation of Nitrogen Fixing Cells
2. Protein-Nitrogenase Association
3. High Rate of Respiration
4. Time specific Nitrogenase Activity
5. Association with Rapid Oxygen Consumers
6. Presence of hydrogenase
7. Colonization
Basic requirements for Nitrogen Fixation
Mechanism of Nitrogen Reduction
Assimilation of Ammonia
Route I

Route II
Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation
Host Specificity
Root Nodulation
Mechanism of Nitrogen Fixation
(a) Oxygen Transpot by Leghaemoglobin
(b) Utilization of Oxygen by Hydrogenase
Requirement for Nitrogen reduction
Assimilation of Ammonia
4. Genetics of Nitrogen Fixation
Nif-genes of Klebsiella Pneumoniae
Regulation of Nif Genes
Nif-genes of Azotobacter
Nif-genes of Anabaena
Genetics of Legume-Rhizobium Nitrogen Fixation
1. Rhizobial Genes
a) Nod Genes
b) Nif Genes
c) Hup Genes
2. Legume Nodulin Genes
Leghaemoglobin Gene
Overall Regulation of Genes
Gene Transfer for Nitrogen Fixation
1. Transfer of Nif Genes to Non-Nitrogen Fixing Bacteria
2. Transfer of Nif Genes to yeasts
3. Transfer of Nif-Genes to plants
4. Transfer of Nod Genes
5. Transfer of Hup Genes
5. Mycorrhizae for Agriculture and Forestry
Mycorrhizal types and their structural and nutritional features
Mechanism of ECM formation
Morphology and structure
Synthesis of mycorrhiza
Cultural study
Vesicular arbuscular Mycorrhiza
Sexual reproduction
A sexual production
Method of Inoculum production of VAM
Some important steps in production of VAM
Host plant/growth medium
Chemical application
Control of fungal pathogens
Plant vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal interactions
VAM and soil biota
Control of root diseases
Endomycorrhiza fungi and tree diseases
Mechanism of disease control
6. Animal and plant cell cultures
Historical perspectives
Products and potentials
Animal cells
Immuno biologicals
1. Virus vaccines
2. Monoclonal antibodies
3. Immunoregulator materials
Whole cells
Plant cells
Food additives
Speciality Chemicals
Biomass applications of plant cell cultures
Cell culture and product synthesis
The nature of animal and plant cells in culture
Cell culture initiation
Culture development
Secondary cultures
Culture replication
Industrially useful cell cultures
Substrate independent cultures
Individuality of cell lines in relation to the productivity
Culture media
Growth media
Inorganic salts
Trace elements
Sources of energy and carbon
Nitrogen sources
1. Defined nitrogen sources
2. Undefined nitrogen sources
Growth factors
Other ingredients
Maintenance media
Cell culture technologies
Cellular characteristics which influence the choice of cell
culture technology
Doubling times
1. Sterlization of media
2. Sterlization of equipment
Cell stickness
Immobilized cell systems
The growth and exploitation of cell grown on the surface of a
supporting solid substratum
1. Multiple process
2. Unit process
The growth of animal and plant cells immobilized within a confining matrix
1. Gel entrapment systems
2. Applications of entrapped cells
Dynamic cell systems
Air driven systems
Impeller and air driven systems
Impeller mixed systems
7. Somaclonal variation, cell selection an genotype improvement
Somaclonal variation
Historical perspective
The manifold incidence of somaclonal variation
Range of species
Characters displaying variation
Genetic nature of somaclonal variants
Pre-existing or culture induced variation
Genetic and explant sources effects
The origin of somaclonal variation
Chromosomal abnormalities
Molecular possibilities
Gene amplification and diminution
Tranposable elements
Cell selection
Disease resistance
Herbicide tolerance
Nutritional quality
Other cell selection systems
8. Virus-free clones through plant tissue culture
Distribution of viruses in plants
Techniques for eradication
Heat treatment
Meristem culture
Culture media
Factors affecting developments and rooting
Virus eradication
Major use of virus-free clones
Study effect of virus infection
Source for clonal propagation
Source for in vitro mass propagation
Concluding remarks
9. Microbial metabolism of carbon dioxide
Autotrophic carbon dioxide fixation
The calvin cycle
Molecular structure and properties of RuBP case
Regulation of ribulose 1,5-biphosphate carboxydase and
phosphoribulakinase synthesis
The reductive carboxylic acid cycle
The anaerobic non-phototrophic autotrophs
Heterotrophic carbon dioxide fixation
10. Microbial metabolism of Hydrogen
The role of Hydrogen in the biosphere
Enzyme catalysing the evolution and oxidation of Hydrogen
H2 :+ Ferredoxin Oxidoreductase
H2 : Ferricytochrome C3 oxidoreductase
H2 : NAD- Oxidoreductase
H2 : Coenzyme F420 oxidoreductase
Membrane-bound hydrogenases
Formate hydrogenlyase
Organisms involved in the conversion of hydrogen
Hydrogen-producing micro-organisms
Anaerobic conditions
1. Fermentation and fermentative bacteria
2. Anoxygenic photosynthesis and phototrophic bacteria
3. Oxygenic Phototrophic bacteria (Cyanobacteria)
4. Oxygenic green algae
Aerobic conditions : Nitrogen fixing bacteria
Hydrogen consisting organisms
Hydrogen utilization by anaerobes
1. Nitrate-reducing dentifying bacteria
2. Sulfate reducing bacteria
3. Methanogenic bacteria
4. Acetogenic bacteria
5. Furmarate-reducing bacteria
Hydrogen utilization by phototrophs
1. Anoxygenic phototrophs
2. Cyan bacteria
3. Green algae
Hydrogen utilization by aerobic hydrogen-oxidizing bacteria
The potential use of Hydrogenases and hydrogen in biotechnology
11. Microbial grwoth dynamics
Microbial growth in unlimited environments
Basic growth equation from cell number increase
Basic growth equation from increment increase in the population
over a small growth time.
Basic growth equations.
Microbial growth in limited environments
Growth limitation by substrate exhaustion
Variation in the observed growth yield
Influence of the growth-limiting substrate on growth rate
Deviation of the Monod equation at High substrate concentrations
Basic growth limiting substrate equation
Modelling microbial growth in limited environments
The logistic equation
The saturation model
Microbial growth in open environments
Chemostat growth kinetics
The dilution rate
The dilution rate and biomass concentration
The dilution rate and growth limiting substrate concentration
Biomass and growth-limiting substrate concentrations in the steady state
Determination of µmax from washout kinetics
Establishing and maintaining the steady state
Deviations from theoritical chemostat kinetics
Influence of variation in the observed growth yield
Microbial competition
Competition in closed environments
Competition in open environments
12. Stoichiometry of microbial growth
Growth yields and material balances
Relation between ATP production and growth yields, YATP
Influence of growth rate and maintenance energy on YATP :
anaerobic chemostat cultures
Aerobic yield studies and the influence of the efficiency of
oxidatie phosphorylation on growth yields
Theoritical calculations on the ATP requirements for the formation
of microbial biomass
Influence of Cell Composition
Influence of the carbon source and complexity of the medium
Theoritical calculations on the ATP requirement for the
formation of
microbial biomass
Influence of the Nitrogen source
Influence of the carbon assimilation pathway of the growth substrate
Energy-dissipating mechanisms during growth with excess
carbon and source.
Influence of the degree of reduction of the growth substrate
Heat production
The stoichiometry of product formation
13. Ageing and death in microbes
Basic principles
Death of microbes
Ageing of microbes
Viability among microbes
Survival of populations : Cryptic growth
Injury among microbes
Stress and survival
The physiological status of the population
Overt and actual stress
Substrate accelerated death (SAD)
Metabolic and structural injury
Thymine less death
Survival of slowly growing bacteria
Differentiation and survival
14. Effect of environment on microbial activity
Mechanisms of micro-organisms response to the environment
Primary response due to direct chemical or physicochemical effects
Enzyme inhibition and stimulation
Induction and repression of protein synthesis
Changes in cell morphology
Change in genotype
Dissolved oxygen
Cell Interactions with oxygen
Oxygen incorporation
Oxygen as an inhibitor
Oxygen as an enzyme regulator
Measurement of dissolved oxygen
Generalized response to DOT
Diffusion limitation
Response of growing micro-organisms
Respiration rate
Change in cell constituents
Changes in metabolic products
Transient responses to changes in DOT
Control of DOT
Redox potential
Responses to carbon dioxide
Requirement for carbon dioxide
Inhibition by carbon dioxide
Water activity
Halotolerance and halophily
Effects of pH
Cellular level responses
Intracellular pH
Effects of pH membrane function
Effects of pH on uptake of substrate
Effects of pH on products of metabolism
Effects of pH on cell morphology an structure
Effects of pH on the chemical environment
Effects of pH on flocculation and adhesion
Optimum pH values for growth
Causes of pH changes in cultures
Product formation
Nutrient uptake
Oxidation/reduction reaction
Chage in buffering capacity
Control of pH
By means of a buffer
By balancing metabolism
By feedback control
Cellular-level Responses
Temperature ranges for growth
Response of growth rate to temperature
Effects of temperature on cell death
Effects of temperature on cellular components
1. Membranes
2. DNA
3. RNA
4. Proteins
Cultural effects of temperature
Response to temperature shifts
Effects on substrate utilization
Effects on product formation
Heat generation
Generation of shear
Effects of shear on filamentous fungi
Effects of shear on protozoa and animal cells in culture
Effects of products on shear rate
General control strategies
15. Biosynthesis of fatty acids and lipids
Relevance and importance of lipids
Lipid composition of micro-organism
General survey
Oleaginous micro-organism
Patterns of lipid accumulation
Factors influencing lipid biosynthesis
Growth rate
Growth substrate
pH and salinity
Other factors
Lipid biosynthesis
Acetyl- CoA carboxylase
Fatty acid sythetase
Origin of acetyl - CoA
Eukaryotic micro-organism
Biosynthesis of unsaturated fatty acids
Biosynthesis of other fatty acids
Biosynthesis of lipids from fatty acids
Poly ß- hydroxybutyrate
Microbial metabolism of alkanes and fatty acids
Alkane-utilizing organisms
Uptake of alkanes
Mechanisms of alkane oxidation
Oxidation of primary alcohols to fatty acids
Metabolism of fatty acids derived from alkanes
Microbial products derived from alkanes
Fatty alcohols and aldehydes
Fatty acids
16. Microbial metabolism of aromatic compounds
Fission of the Benzene nucleus
Pereparation of nucleus for aerobic fission
Reactions which follow ring fission
Pathways of degradation
Meta fission pathways
Degradation of 4-hydroxyphenlacetic, homoproto catacleuic
Homogentistic and genetoside acids
Procalecluate 4.5 dioxygenase
Degradation of 3.0- Methylgllic acid: Biological formationof
Ortho fission pathway
Separation of pathways used for aromatic catabolism by bacteria
Catabolism of aromatic compounds in trichosporon cutaneum
Degradation of aromatic industrials pollutants and pesticides
Complete mineralization
Catabolic plasmids
Release of halogen substrates from benzen nucleus
Incomplete degradation of aromatics
17. Bacterial respiration
The generation of the proton motive force
Bacterial respiratory chains
Respiration linked proton translocation
The proton motive force
The utilization of the proton motive force
ATP synthesis
Active transport of solutes
Biotechnological aspects of bacterial respiration
Biomass production
Waste treatment and metabolite production
18. Mechanisms of enzyme catalysis
The events in an enzyme catalysed reaction
Enzyme mechanisms
Enzyme kinetics
Binding of the substrate to the enzyme
Conformational changes
Covalent bond making and breaking
Glucose isomerase
19. Enzyme evolution
Regulation of metabolism
Nutritional repression
Feedback regulation
Limiting accumulation of end products
Feedback resistance mutations
Additional types of regulations
Permeability consideration
Recent approaches to strain construction
Amino-acid production by genetically engineered strains of
E-Coli and related organisms
Strain construction in other species
20. Microbial photosynthesis
Historical background
General characteristics of microbial photosynthesis
Structure and synthesis of photosynthetic pigments
Chlorophylls and bacteriochlorophylls
The phycobissins
The initial reactions primary photochemistry and electron transport
Light harvesting
Charge separation and electron transport in an oxygenic
` photosynthesis
ATP synthesis
The eubacterial photosynthetic microbes
The anoxygenic phototrophic bacteria
The major groups
Development of the photosynthetic appartus
Carbon metabolism
The Cyano bacteria: oxygenic photosynthesis in a diverse
prokaryotic group
Organization of the photosynthetic appartus
Interrelationship between photosynthetic and
chemosynthetic carbon metabolism in cyanobacteria
21. Extra cellular enzymes
Mechanism of Secretion
Signal hypothesis
Signal hyprosthesis in bacteria
Signal sequence structure
Function of signal peptide and translocation
Processing of the precursor
Gene fusion studies
Membrane associate intermediates
Alternative export mechanisms; post translocational secretion
Aspects of enzyme secretion in fungi
Regulation of Extracellular enzyme synthesis
Regulation of protein synthesis
Induction of exoenymes
End-product repression
Catabolite repression
Patterns of exoenzyme synthesis
RNA polymerase modification
Catabolite repression
Translocational control of exoenzyme synthesis in bacteria
Control of secretion
22. Overproduction of microbial metabolites
Effects of nutrient limitation
Effects of pH and uncouplers of oxidative phosphorylation
Effects of Temperature
23. Regulation of metabolite synthesis
A phospholactase system in Klebsiella
Catabolism of unnatural sugars
Regulatory mutations
Modular pathways
Evolution of an aliphatic amidase in pseudomonas
Evolution of a new ß-Galactosidase in E-Coli
Properties of the wild-type proteins
Evolution of lactose utilization
Evolution of new activities for ebg enzymes
Evolution of the ebg repressor
Decryptifying Existing Genes

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Sample Chapters

(Following is an extract of the content from the book)
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The reduction of atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia by soil-borne microorganisms is called biological nitrogen fixation. Biological nitrogen fixation was discovered in legumes by wilfrath. The nitrogen fixing bacterium Rhizobium leugminosarum was first isolated from legumes by Beijerinck in 1922. Many bacteria and BGA do nitrogen fixation. The global nitrogen fixation is 175 x 106 tons/year.

Nitrogen is on of the major elements useful for plant growth. Our atmosphere contains about 80% gaseous nitrogen but green plants are unable to use it directly from the atmosphere.

Some soil bacteria and blue-green algae are capable of reducing the atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia in their cells. The process of nitrogen reduction is called diazotrophy or nitrogen fixation. The enzyme nitrogenase is useful nitrogen fixation. The microbes which reduce nitrogen are called nitrogen fixers of diazotrophs. Ammonia produced during nitrogen fixation is readily available to plants directly.

Green plants use ammonia to synthesise nitrogen-containing compounds such as arginine, asparagin, allantonin and allantonic acid. These nitrogen containing compounds synthesised directly from ammonia are known as urides. Urides are involved in the metabolism of nucleic acids and proteins.

Diazotrophs are broadly divided into two groups, namely non-symbiotic nitrogen fixers and symbiotic nitrogen fixers. Azotobacter, Clostridium, Azotococcus, Oscillatoria, Cylinderospermum, etc. are non-symbiotic nitrogen fixers. Anabaena, Nostoc, Rhizobium, Azospirillum, etc. are symbiotic nitrogen fixers.

Non-symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation

Some microorganisms live independently in the soil and do nitrogen fixation. Such microbes are called non-symbiotic nitrogen fixers or non-symbiotic diazotrophs. Nitrogen fixation by these microbes is known as non-symbiotic nitrogen fixation.

Non-symbiotic nitrogen fixers are divided into two groups-

  1. Free-living autotrophic diazotrophs
  2. Free-living heterotrophic diazotrophs.

The free-living autotrophic diazotrophs synthesise their own food either by photosynthesis using the sunlight or by chemicals. Among these diazotrophs, some are aerobes - e.g. Oscillatoria, Cylindrospermum, Plectonema, Tolypotrix, etc. Some others are anaerobes e.g. Chlorobium vibriforme, C.limicola, Chromatium minus, Thiocystis formosa, Rhodopseudomonas viridis, etc.

The free-living heterotrophic diazotrophs, on the other hand, use dead organic matter as food and do nitrogen fixation. Examples Clostridium, Azotobacter, Beijerinckia, Klebsiella pneumoniae, etc.

Features Favourable for Non- symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation

All diazotrophs contain the enzyme nitrogenase which catalyses the reduction of N2 into NH3. Nitrogenase is sensitive to oxygen, so it prefers anaerobic conditions for nitrogen fixation. But in microbes, the oxygen level is usually high. The high oxygen level leads to oxidation of nitrogenase and hence that enzyme becomes inactive.

Non-symbiotic nitrogen fixers have the following special features for nitrogen fixation:

1. Special Separation of Nitrogen Fixing Cells

Blue green algae are photoautotrophic diazotrophs living on moist soils. They have photosystem-I and II so that oxygen is evolved during the light reaction of photosynthesis. This oxygen may inhibit the nitrogenase activity. In these algae, photosynthesis is restricted to vegetative cells and nitrogen fixation is restricted to heterocysts. Examples Anabaena, Nostoc, Tolypothrix, Cylindrospermum, Aulosira, etc.

Heterocysts are thick-walled cells that lack photosystem II. The thick wall of the heterocysts prevents the entry of oxygen into the heterocyst. Since photosystem II is absent, oxygen has not been evolved during photosynthesis in the heterocysts. But, respiration is going on continuously. Because of these reasons, partial anaerobic conditions develop in the heterocysts for nitrogen fixation. Heterocysts have various enzymes involving in the anabolism of urides.

Fig. 1: Diagram explaining special separation of nitrogenfixing cells and photosynthetic cells.

2. Protein-Nitrogenase Association

Azotobacter, Derixa and Mycobacterium are aerobic heterotrophic nitrogen fixing bacteria. In these bacteria, some intracellular proteins are found associated with nitrogenase, when oxygen level is high in the cells. When the oxygen level comes down, the proteins release the nitrogenase free. The free nitrogenase fixes nitrogen as usual.

3. High Rate of Respiration

Some aerobic heterotrophic diazotrophs show high rate of respiration. So the cellular oxygen level is reduced to certain extent. At the reduced oxygen level, nitrogenase reduces N2 into NH3. Egs. Azotobacter.

4. Time specific Nitrogenase Activity

Rhodopseudomonas capsulata is an aerobic photo autotrophic diazotroph. It does photosynthesis in the daytime and does nitrogen fixation in the night. In the night, oxygen level comes down in the cells due to continuous respiration.

5. Association With Rapid Oxygen Consumers

Some microbes cannot fix nitrogen when they are living far away from rhizosphere zone of some higher plants. Eg. Klebsiella, Rhodopseudomonas, Chloropseudomonas, etc. When they are living in the rhizosphere of high oxygen consuming plants, they fix the atmospheric nitrogen. Here plant roots create a partial anaerobic condition that favours for nitrogen fixation.

6. Presence of hydrogenase

When nitrogen not happens to be around, nitrogenase reduces hydrogen ions (H+) into H2. It utilizes reductants and ATP while reducing H+ ions. It is a useless process. Besides this, hydrogen so produced, while reaching higher concentration, inhibits nitrogen reduction.

Azotobacter chroococcum and Anabaena cylindrica contain the enzyme hydrogenase. Hydrogenase transfers electrons to high-energy potential electron acceptor and combines ½O2 and 2H+ into H2O. This process is often called hydrogen uptake. The hydrogenase doing hydrogen uptake is known as uptake hydrogenase or irreversible hydrogenase.

Hydrogen uptake reduces the H2 and O2 levels in the nitrogen fixing cells. Further, it supplies ATPs to provide energy for nitrogen reduction and reduces the wastage of reductants. Therefore, nitrogenase is safe in the nitrogen-fixing cell and does nitrogen reduction.

[center]H2 + ½ O2 H2O + Energy.[/center]

7. Colonization

The unicellular blue-green alga Cleocapsa forms a globular colony by aggregation of many cells. Outer cells of the colony prevents the entry of oxygen into the inner cells. Hence, the inner cells are slightly anaerobic to do nitrogen fixation.


Biological nitrogen fixation is catalysed by the enzyme nitrogenase. Nitrogenase consists of one larger sub-unit and one smaller sub-unit. The larger sub-unit is called molybdenum ferrous protein or nitrogenase reductase. The smaller sub-unit is called ferrous protein.

The Mo-Fe protein is 200,000-245,000 daltons in molecular weight. It is made up of two identical identical a-polypeptide chains and two identical small b-polypeptide chains. The a and b chains are bound together by 1-2 Mo atoms, 12-32 Fe atoms and 30 sulphur atoms. An Mo atom is surrounded by 7 ferrous atoms and the ferrous atoms and sulphur atoms are arranged in 4+4 clusters.

The ferrous protein, on the other hand, is 60,000 - 60,700 daltons in molecular weight. It consists of two more or less identical polypeptide chains which are held together by 4 ferrous atoms and 4 sulphur atoms. It carries Mg-ATP for nitrogen reduction.

The Mo- Fe protein and Fe-protein combine together in the presence of Na+ ions to form an active nitrogenase complex.

Fig 2. Components of nitrogenase complex.

Nitrogenase can reduce a wide variety of substrates such as N2, N3, N2O, HCN, C2H2, 2H+, acetylene, cyclopropane, etc. Among them, N2 form a natural and abundant substrate. A few reduction reactions catalysed by nitrogenase are given below:


N2 + 3H2 = 2NH3


N2O + H2 = N2 + H2O


CH3NC + 6H2 = CH3NH2 + CH4


2H+ = CH3NH2 + CH4

Basic requirements For Nitrogen Fixation

Nitrogenase requires an energy source and electron donors for nitrogen reduction. ATPs released during the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids react with Mg++ ions to form Mg-ATPs. The Mg++ of Mg-ATP binds with a Fe-protein to form an active complex. The Mg-ATP is hydrolysed into Mg-ADP and inorganic phosphate (ip) to supply energy. About 12-15 Mg-ATPs are required to reduce one molecule of N2 into NH3.

Mg-ATP + H2O Mg-ADP - ip; [g0 ="-7.3" k cal/mole

The electrons required for nitrogen reduction are provided by electron donors or reductants. In many diazotrophs, ferridoxin serves as an electron donor. In Azotobacter and Blue-green algae, NADPH functions as an electron donor. In anaerobic diazotrophs, pyruvate transfers electrons to nitrogenase complex for nitrogen reduction.

Mechanism of Nitrogen Reduction

During biological nitrogen fixation, gaseous nitrogen (N2) is reduced into ammonia (NH3) by the enzyme nitrogenase. The over all process of nitrogen reduction is given below:

1. The Fe-protein (nitrogenase reductase) receive electrons from ferridoxin (or NADPH) and gets reduced.


Fe-protein Reduced Fe-protein

2. The reduced Fe-protein accepts 12 molecules of Mg-ATP and forms a reduced Fe- protein- mg-ATP complex (RFP-MA complex). The mg++ ions activate the Fe-protein. Reduced Fe protein + 12 mg-ATPs Reduced

Fe protein -Mg-ATPs complex.

3. The nitrogenase (no-Fe-protein) accepts a molecule of N2 to gets converted into a nitrogenase nitrogen complex (NNC).

Nitrogenase + N2 nitrogenase nitrogen complex.

4. The RFP-MA complex binds with the nitrogenase nitrogen complex to form an active nitrogenase complex in the presence of Na+ ions. Electrons in the RFP-Ma complex is transferred to nitrogenase for reducing the nitrogen. During this electron transfer, some 2H+ ions may be reduced to H2.

5. The reduced nitrogenase in the nitrogenase complex accepts 6H+ ions from the cytoplasm and reduces the N2 into ammonia using 6 electrons. The electrons present in Fe atoms of nitrogenase are used for this purpose. The nitrogen reduction takes place in three steps-

i) First, nitrogen (N2) reacts with 2H+ ions by consuming 2 electrons to form a diamide.

N = N + 2H+ HN = NH

ii) The diamide reacts with 2H+ ions using -2 electrons to form a hydrozine. HN = NH + 2H+ H2N = NH2

iii) The hydrozine reacts with 2H+ ions by consuming 2 eletrons to form 2 molecules of ammonia.

H2N - NH2 + 2H+ 2NH3

Fig. 3: A hypothetical representation of nitrogenase activity in nitrogen fixation: ¨ indicates oxidized state of the enzyme sub-unit; n indicates reduced state of the enzyme sub-unit.

6. After the reduction of N2 into NH3, the nitrogenase complex dissociates into a Fe-protein, nitrogenase, Mg++ and ADPs. NH3 so produced is released in the cytoplasm. The enzyme is now available to reduce another molecule of nitrogen.

Assimilation of Ammonia

Ammonia Produced during nitrogen fixation is unstable at the physiological pHs. So it is readily converted into ammonium (NH4). The ammonium is involved in the biosynthesis of amino acids.

NH3 + H+ NH4

In non-symbiotic nitrogen fixers, ammonium is assimilated in two routes:

Route I

Ammonium reacts with one molecule of glutamic acid to form a glutamine molecule. This reaction is catalysed by glutamine synthetase (GS), which has high affinity to NH4. One molecule of ATP is hydrolysed during this reaction.

The glutamine reacts with a molecule of 2 oxoglutarate in the presence of NADPH2 to form 2 molecules of glutamic acid. This reaction is catalysed by glutamine oxoglutarate aminotransferase (GOGAT).

Of these two glutamic acid molecules, one goes to reacts with another NH4 molecule and the other is used to synthesise other amino acids and nucleotides.

Fig. 4: A pathway of ammonium assimilation in non-symbiotic nitrogen fixers.

Route II

2-oxoglutarate reacts with NH4 and NADH or NADPH, and undergoes reductive amination to form a glutamic acid molecule. This reaction is catalysed by the enzyme glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH), which has lesser affinity to NH4 than glutamine synthetase. So the speed of NH4 assimilation in this route is somewhat slow.

Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation

Some microorganisms establish symbiotic association with plant roots and do nitrogen fixation. Such microbes are called symbiotic nitrogen fixers or symbiotic diazotrophs.

The diszotrophs derive nourishments from the plant roots and provide nitrogen to it. Nitrogen reduction by symbiotic microbes is called symbiotic nitrogen fixation.

During symbiotic association, some diazotrophs induce nodule development on the plant roots. This type of symbiosis is called rhizocoenosis. Eg. Rhizobium, Frankia, etc. Here nitrogen fixation takes place in the root nodules.

Rhizobia establish symbiotic association with roots of legumes and form root nodules. Rarely, they induce nodulation in the roots of non-legumes such as Trema canabaena.

Frankia induces root nodulation in Alnus, Casuarina, Myrica, Discaria, etc.

Some symbiotic diazotrophs do not form root nodules in host plants. Azospirillum, Beijerinckia, Azotobacter paspali, etc. Azospirillum sps. are found associated with roots of many monocot and dicot plants. Beijerinckia is seen on the roots of sugarcane. Azotobacter paspali is seen on the roots of paspalum notatum, wheat, corn, sorghum, etc.

Symbiotic diazotrophs cannot fix the atmospheric nitrogen, when they are living alone in the soil. But certain yanabacteria, are fixing nitrogen both when they are residing in the host and when they alive free in the soil. Examples Nostoc, Anabaena, etc.

Host Specificity

Although several species of Rhizobia live in the rhizosphere of a legume, a particular species alone can establish symbiotic association with its roots. This selective in fection of Rhizobium on specific plants is called host specificity. For example,

Rhizobium leguminosarum establishes root nodules in pea. Rhizobium phaseoli induces nodulation on roots or beans.

Rhizobium japonicum forms root nodules in soyabean..

The host specific infection of Rhizobium depends upon the specific flavonoid secreted by the roots of legumes. Alfalfa exude luteolin an white clover exude dihydroxyflavone along with lectins. The root exudate induces certain genes of a particular species or Rhizobium to produce a host determinant compound on its cell wall.

In most cases, the host determinant compound is a capsular polysaccharide (CP). The lectin produced by the legume root has affinity to the capsular polysaccharide. Therefore, it binds with the capsular polysaccharide of the specific Rhizobium species and the other end of the lectin binds with cell wall polysaccharide of a hoot hair. Here, lectin acts as a bridge molecule. After recognition, the Rhizobium infect the root hair.

Fig. 5. Mechanism of host specific infection of Rhizobium trifoli on the root hair of alfalfa.

Root Nodulation

The formation of root nodules after the roots get infected with Rhizobium is called nodulation. The protein lectin (phytoaglutinin) helps for host specific binding of Rhizobium on the root hair.

The Rhizobium secretes cytokinin and polymixin-B, which induce curling of the tip of the root hair. Cell wall of the root hair, at the point of contact, invaginates and forms a tubular structure called infection thread.

Rhizobium enters the infection thread. The infection thread grows continuously and penetrates the cortical cells of the plant root. It branches repeatedly and forms a fungal hypha-like infection thread. As the infection thread grows, the Rhizobium reaches the cortical region.

Fig. 6: Root nodulation in legume.

The cortical cells near endodermis get penetrated by the infection thread. Rhizobium releases some growth hormones to the cortical cells. Hence the inner cortical cells around the infection thread divide and grow faster to form a mass of cells. In these cortical cells the chromosome number may get doubled. By continuous growth, the mass of cells protrudes from the surface of the root, in the form of a nodule.

Rhizobium multiplies within the infection thread as well as in the cortical cells in which they were discharged. As a result, the central portion of the nodule is occupied by a dense mass of Rhizobia.

Each cortical cell has 4-6 pleomorphic Rhizobia called bacterioids. They may be club-shaped, Y-shaped or branched. The membrane of the cortical cell enclosing the bacterioids is known as peribacterioid membrane. The bacterioids fix the atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia. called nodulins. The nodulins help to maintain the structure of root nodules, to support the nitrogen fixation and to assimilate the fixed nitrogen in the nodules.

Environmental factors like high dose of nitrogen fertilizers, low concentration of CO2 and dense population of other species of bacteria in the rhizosphere decrease the nodulation. The temperature between 25-300C favours for nodulation. High light intensity and high concentration of CO2 are found to be not suitable for nodulation.

Mechanism of Nitrogen Fixation

Rhizobium is a symbiotic, aerobic nitrogen fixer. It cannot fix nitrogen when it is free living. Nitrogen fixation is catalysed by nitrogenase which is sensitive to oxygen. It gets inactivated when the oxygen level exceeds 0.5 atm. In plant cells, oxygen level is some what high, so the nitrogenase may fail to reduced the nitrogen.

The root nodules of legumes have two mechanisms to protect nitrogenase from oxygen. They are discussed below:

a) Oxygen Transport by Leghaemoglobin

Leghaemoglobin (LHb) is a red, myoglobin-like protein present only in healthy root nodules of legumes. It is encoded by certain genes of the legumes. It is found outside the bacterioid, but in close contact with it.

Leghaemoglobin has a haem prosthetic group so that it acts as haemoglobin in blood. It has affinity to oxygen. It acts as an oxygen carrier within the root nodule.

Leghaemoglobin combines with oxygen to form oxyleghaemoglobin and provides the oxygen to plant cells for respiration. So the oxygen level around the bacterioid is reduced to a great extent. Further, it supplies low level of oxygen that does not affect nitrogenase activity to the bacterioid for its respiration. Thus leghaemoglobin acts as a buffering system.

Besides this, leghaemoglobin supplies O2 to terminal oxidation process to generate ATPs for nitrogenase activity.

b) Utilization of Oxygen by Hydrogenase

Some strains of Rhizobia contain hydrogenase, the enzyme that combines H2 and O2 to form water (H2O). Hydrogenase removes oxygen from the vicinity of nitrogenase in the bacterioid. Meantime, it regenerates some ATPs lost by hydrogen reduction during nitrogen reduction. Thus hydrogenase makes a suitable microenvironment for nitrogenase activity.


The structure of nitrogenase is very similar to that in non-symbiotic nitrogen fixers

Requirements For Nitrogen Reduction

Bacterioids synthesise ATPs, proton (H+), electron donors such as NADPH2 and ferridoxin by oxidizing the sugars. From reduced ferridoxin electrons flow to Mo-Fe-protein. The enzyme nitrogenase complex receives energy from Mg-ATPs by hydrolysis. The Mo-Fe protein reduces N2 into NH3 by using the electrons. Atleast two electrons are required to reduce one molecule to N2 into two molecules of NH3. The Mo-Fe protein and Fe protein then separate from each other.

Fig. 7: The overall process of nitrogen fixation in a bacterioid of Rhizobium

If free H+ ions are available in large amounts, the nitrogenase reduces two H+ ions into one H2 molecule while passing the electrons from Fe- protein to Mo-Fe-protein.

[For more details see-Mechanism of Nitrogen Reduction in Non-symbiotic Nitrogen Fixers].

Assimilation of Ammonia

Ammonia produced in the bacterioids diffuses into plant cells of the root nodule. NH3 is used in the biosynthesis of urides such as glutamine, glutamate and aspartate.

Purines are synthesised from glutamine, and are used in the biosynthesis of allantonin and allantonic acid. These compounds are released in the xylem sap of the root.

Glutamine and aspartate are converted into asparagin and is released into the root.

Some non-protein amino acids such as homoserine, citrulline, canavanine, etc. are synthesised from glutamate, glutamine and aspartate, and released into the xylem sap.

All these compounds are transported to various parts of the plant where they are used in cellular metabolism.

Fig. 8: Diagram explaining the nitrogen fixation and uride metabolism in the root nodule of legume.

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