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Nitrogen is vital for all plant life, but increasingly the planet is paying a heavy price for the escalating use of nitrogen fertilizer.

Excess nitrogen from fertilizer runoff into rivers and lakes causes algal blooms that create oxygen-depleted dead zones, such as the 6,000 to 7,000 square mile zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and nitrogen in the form of nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas.

But new findings by Stanford researchers that reveal the inner workings of nitrogen-producing bacteria living inside legumes such as soybeans could enable researchers to blunt those negative effects and aid efforts to make agriculture more sustainable.

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