Utilizing the soil microbiome for sustainable agriculture in the UK: drawing from rhizobial inoculants and farmer knowledge

Grantham Scholar Mary Eliza’s explores the potential to enhance rhizobial inoculants using viruses. Doing this could increase the efficiency of growing legumes and so decrease nitrogen use.

The project

Legumes are a major source of protein for human consumption worldwide. Apart from harbouring a good amount of protein, legumes also harbour many beneficial bacteria in their root nodules.

Rhizobium is one of these bacterial species. They form a symbiotic association with legumes and fix atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can utilise. Rhizobium are currently used as soil inoculants to provide nitrogen to legume crops and this interaction between Rhizobium and legumes is an excellent example of food production without industrial inputs.

However, the Rhizobial community varies widely in their ability to fix nitrogen. Some are very good at fixing nitrogen while others do not fix any nitrogen at all. 

My Ph.D. explores the potential to enhance Rhizobial inoculants using viruses (phages). This would involve exploiting symbiotic interactions between bacteria and temperate phages – beneficial viruses which integrate into bacteria – for successful colonisation and nodulation of Rhizobium.

I will complement this work with the public participation of farmers in my project. Public participation aims to communicate and discuss the impact of my research on soil health and to develop techniques to improve efficiency of microbes in fields. 

Mary Eliza’s outreach

Multidisciplinary knowledge exchange and cake. At Internal Seminars and Cake – ISAC – the Grantham Scholars showcase their work in an informal setting. Mary was one of ISAC’s organisers in March 2022 when Centre Administrator Jana Green captured the event on camera for this write up of.

The Grantham Centre at COP. We sent 7 Grantham Scholars to COP26 as official observers for the University of Sheffield, including Mary. Before they went, we spoke to them about their hopes and fears for this pivotal event.

Can we solve global warming, acid rain and smog all at once? Maria Eliza looks at the possibilities of this three-fold potential for sustainability in a talk curated by TUoS Alumni Service’s Bright Minds interviews.

Mary has been highlighting issues around plastic recycling. As part of this, she’s been sharing tips and activities from Green Impact about how to recycle plastics by engaging household members. You can find the presentation: Plastic Recycling here.

Social media

You can find Mary Eliza on Linkedin.



Dr Anna D Krzywoszynska

Sheffield Institute for Sustainable Food