More barley

A happy piece of news for a change. Three Irish students have won a global science research competition at the GoogleScience Fair 2014 in San Francisco. Also, they’re all girls. Girls, I tell you!

Ciara Judge, Emer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow from Kinsale Community School, Cork were named the grand prize winner in the 15 to 16-year-old age category for a project which examined the use of natural bacteria to increase crop output.

They were inspired to try and help improve food production, particularly in third world countries, after learning about a famine in the Horn of Africa in 2011.

The basis of their project focuses on a naturally occurring bacteria in soil called Diazotroph.

Their research showed that if Diazotroph is present, it accelerates the germination process of high-value crops such as barley and oats, potentially boosting output by up to 50 per cent.

How’s that for a thing to get done when you’re 16? Increasing food production – you can’t get much more useful than that.

Using naturally occurring Rhizobium strains of the Diazotroph bacteria family, they carried out an extensive study of their impact on the germination rate and subsequent growth of the cereal crops wheat, oats and barley.

Detailed statistical analysis of their results indicated that these bacterial strains accelerated crop germination by up to 50 per cent and increased barley yields by 74 per cent.

Such a cereal crop performance improvement could significantly assist combatting the growing global food poverty challenge and benefit the environment by reducing fertilizer use.

Makes me feel all soppy.


  1. octopod says

    Well done them! I wish I’d been looking at soil bacteria when I was in high school, that’s pretty awesome. And it’s pretty interesting if they’ve found that Rhizobium increases germination even when there aren’t any legume roots around for it to live in. Gonna have to ask my local expert about that.

    That said…wow, that’s a crap writeup though. Diazotrophs are any bacteria that can fix N2 into a bioavailable form, not “a naturally occurring bacteria in soil”, and Rhizobium is a genus, not a “strain”. Ugh, reads like something my undergrads would write.

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