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New Pulsford Laboratory fixates on nitrogen


25 June 2012

Nodules on the roots of legume plants contain rhizobia, the bacteria that can 'fix' nitrogen in the air to make it usable to living things.
Nodules on the roots of legume plants contain rhizobia, the bacteria that can 'fix' nitrogen in the air to make it usable to living things.

David Pulsford, an alumnus of the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, and an industry leader in nitrogen fixation, will be honoured with a special award from the faculty and the opening of a new lab bearing his name.

Professor Mark Adams, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, will present the award to David on 25 June at the first day of the 16th Australian Nitrogen Fixation Conference, to be held at Q Station Manly.

David has played an important role in nitrogen fixation since the late 1950s and generously supported the SUNFix Centre for Nitrogen Fixation at the University of Sydney, which closed in December 2011, but whose research will continue in the new Pulsford Laboratory.

"It is befitting that David Pulsford's name will be entered in the faculty's 'hall of fame' by naming a lab after him, as it allows us to publicly acknowledge the impact he's had in nitrogen fixation in Australia and his long association with the University from the commercial sector," said Emeritus Professor Ivan Kennedy, from the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, and organiser of the 16th Australian Nitrogen Fixation Conference.

Graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from the University of Sydney, David worked with nitrogen fixing microbial products in his role at Agricultural Laboratories and later in his own company Bio-Care Technology.

"Biological nitrogen fixation is one of the most important biological processes on earth. It allows plants to grow in soils that have low nitrogen, by 'fixing' nitrogen from the air into a form that living things can use. The nitrogen fixing is done by rhizobia - bacteria that can fix nitrogen when living inside nodules on the roots of legume plants," explained Emeritus Professor Kennedy.

"We all rely on biological nitrogen fixation for our food. Nitrogen availability in soils is still the single most crucial limiting nutrient element for food production."

Farmers grow legumes, such as clovers, soybeans and lupins, to increase the biologically available nitrogen in the soil for other crop plants. Agricultural scientists have developed and continue to improve rhizobium inoculant products needed to form nodules on the roots of legumes.

"David is among those who responded to the urgent call in 1956 by the late Professor James Vincent - who worked at the University of Sydney and was an international pioneer in legume inoculants - to improve the quality of rhizobium inoculant products," said Emeritus Professor Kennedy.

David provided samples of his microbial products to Professor Vincent's University of Sydney and Department of Agriculture Laboratory Service which provided a quality control service ensuring that rhizobium products contained the best strains of microbes in sufficient numbers (about 1011 per hectare). This service set a standard that is still employed today.

Through his company Bio-Care Technology, David has supported several Australian Research Council Linkage Projects aimed at improving nitrogen fixation and nitrogen nutrient use efficiency in Australian crops.

More recently, following his retirement, David has continued to make generous donations to support the activities of the SUNFix Centre for Nitrogen Fixation which has ensured that this important area of research, essential to Australia's agriculture, can continue.


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