N-Circle: A major new UK-China Joint Centre on Nitrogen

N-Circle: A major new UK-China Joint Centre on Nitrogen

A major new Centre is being established between UK and Chinese scientists to tackle the issues of nitrogen use and pollution from agriculture.

The Centre is led by the University of Aberdeen with UK partners from the University of Cambridge, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), ADAS and the University of East Anglia, as well as nine leading partner institutions from China. The £7 million Centre, which will be called N-Circle to emphasise the focus on recycling nitrogen resources and closing the nitrogen cycle, will receive just under £3 million from BBSRC and the Newton Fund, and over £4 million from sources in China.

The new Centre will be led by Professor Pete Smith from the Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Aberdeen who said: “Nitrogen is used as a fertilizer to improve agricultural productivity, but pollution from overuse or misuse of nitrogen causes issues for soil, water and air quality, as well as being a major cause of climate change. It is therefore essential to tackle nitrogen inputs, transfers and losses to allow us to produce the food we need to feed 9-10 billion people by 2050, without wrecking the environment in the process.

“China uses more nitrogen fertilisers than any other country in the world, so is a critical region to tackle the nitrogen problem. Europe still has room for improvement but has successfully reduced nitrogen pollution over the last three decades so, with our Chinese partners, we will bring this good agricultural practice to China, and together will enhance the latest scientific understanding to develop innovative solutions for improved nitrogen use efficiency on both continents.”

Professor Roger Sylvester-Bradley of ADAS welcomed the new funding and particularly that the funders had recognised the importance of the new Virtual Centre addressing all aspects of the N Cycle, from soil microbiology to crop protein storage and livestock nutrition. He said: “For the first time, we will be able to show how multiple innovations can have significant synergies."

Professor Liz Baggs, Head of the School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, said: “We are delighted to be leading this new Centre at such a challenging time for sustainable global agriculture, and we look forward to working with our partners in the UK and China to ensure our research delivers global impact.”

Professor Sir David Baulcombe, Prof Chris Gilligan and Prof Howard Griffiths, of the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, are keen to emphasize that N-Circle will foster research capacity in important areas including crop yield and grain quality. They commented, "This proposal helps to consolidate our Crop Science initiative at Cambridge and the collaboration with our partners in the UK and China will help us to translate fundamental research into agronomic practice.”

 Professor Bob Rees, Head of the Carbon Management Centre at SRUC, said: “This project provides a unique opportunity to bring together leading scientists in the UK and China to address the challenge of balancing the increased demands for food with environmental protection and sustainability.

Dr Yuelai Lu, Head of Secretariat of the UK China Sustainable Agriculture Innovation Network (SAIN), University of East Anglia added: “Efficient use of nitrogen fertiliser plays a key role in sustainable intensification of China’s agriculture; this timely and multidisciplinary project will help to translate our understanding of N cycle into practical solutions to support China’s agricultural transition.”

N-Circle aims to become self-perpetuating beyond the current three years’ worth of funding. It will strengthen existing scientific collaborations between the UK and Chinese partners, and aims to provide not only cutting edge science, but also improved practice on farms in China and in the UK. The new N-Circle Centre will begin its work early in 2016.