Millie is grateful for the good life she has but a twinge of jealously occasionally nags at the back of her mind. It’s her cousins, the Rhizobias. You see, Rhizobia bacteria live in the root nodules of legumes like beans, alfalfa and clover. Farmers are always bragging about how those bacteria help fertilize their soil. Millie’s family works hard too, but they never get any recognition.
Then one day a surprising letter arrived. It was from the Secretary of Bacteriological Research at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. The secretary indicated that she had an important assignment for Millie’s family, and she’d be calling the next day!
“Yes Millie, this is Secretary Ima Germm from the USDA. So good of you to take my call.” Secretary Germm went on to explain that the earth was suffering from an overload of factory-made nitrogen fertilizer. Excess fertilizer washes off fields into water systems causing algal blooms that suck the oxygen out of the water. The result is more than 400 so-called “dead zones” around the world. It’s estimated that over 200,000 tons of sea life die each year at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Not only that, it takes huge amounts of energy to manufacture the world supply of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. It’s more than all the wind and solar energy produced worldwide last year! “We just can’t keep doing this,” Germm fretted. “That’s where you come in.
“Humans have figured out that you and hundreds of other kinds of microbes live inside LOTS of different plants and fix nitrogen for them. You consume a plant’s sugars and in return, produce nitrogen fertilizer that’s available exactly when and where each plant needs it. Soon you’ll be commercially available. And then, no more excess fertilizer run-off. Huge energy savings too! We knew that sooner or later they’d learn to value your work,” Germm winked.
“When the humans work out the details, we’re happy to be of service,” Millie smiled. “Anyway, who wants a bunch of dead zones on the only home we’ll ever know? After all, we’re here forever…Earthbound.”