Svetlana Yurgel, one of the most recent researchers to join the Faculty of Agriculture, started her extensive research simply by looking down.
Having come to Dalhousie in January 2015, Dr. Yurgel studies soil microbiology, specifically looking at soil fertility, plant fitness and bacteria plant interaction. She is also one of the ever-increasing number of female scientists in the agricultural industry.
In 1998, Dr. Yurgel moved to Washington from Saint Petersburg, Russia where she had graduated with a PhD from the Institute of Agricultural Microbiology. At Washington State University, Dr. Yurgel practiced as a post-doctorate fellow until 2003 where she became a research professor and, subsequently, came to Nova Scotia earlier this year.
Dr. Yurgel is looking at how to enhance the growth of agricultural legumes without the use of harsh fertilizers that can sometimes be harmful to the environment. To do this, she studies rhizobium-legume symbiosis: an interaction that allows two organisms to co-exist.
“Symbiosis is similar to marriage,” Dr. Yurgel explains. “There’s one person and then a second person and they get together and benefit from each other. The plant can live by itself and the bacteria can live by itself but they can combine and interact and form a specific organism that contains both.”
Organic, sustainable agriculture
Rhizobia are types of soil bacteria that attach themselves inside the roots of legumes and assist with nitrogen fixation, a process in which nitrogen in the atmosphere is converted to ammonium. Nitrogen fixation is an important process in agriculture as it helps to fertilize the soil.
After crops are harvested, some nitrogen remains in the soil assisting with the growth of other crops. One of the most commonly supplied plant nutrients, nitrogen is also a commonly deficient nutrient in plants. While nitrogen is supplied through fertilizers, this can often be very harsh to the environment. Through her research, Dr. Yurgel is trying to improve the efficiency of nitrogen fixation through symbiosis and provide alternatives to conventional agriculture.
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