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NORA - Nitrous Oxide Research Alliance Training Network

Final Report Summary - NORA (NORA - Nitrous Oxide Research Alliance Training Network)

NORA (Nitrous Oxide Research Alliance Training Network)
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 316472; FP7-PEOPLE-2012-ITN under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie actions.
Project Coordinator: Professor Åsa Frostegård, Norwegian University of Life Sciences NORA website:

NORA aims at improved understanding and quantification of processes involved in the production of the greenhouse gas N2O, with the long-term goal to reduce these emissions from managed ecosystems (agriculture and waste treatment systems). This is accomplished through fundamental research in an interdisciplinary context in collaboration with the fertilizer- and waste-industries.
NORA comprises a multi-site network localized in 6 European countries and includes 9 university partners, 4 small sized enterprises and 1 large enterprise (industries are shown in black, Fig. 1). The research is divided into 7 projects (P1-7) grouped into WP 1-3, and encompass biochemical studies, microbial physiology, mathematical modelling, investigations of soils and wastewater, and gas emission studies at field scale. A trademark of NORA is the collaboration between the academic and industrial partners, secured by frequent secondments at different partners by the 12 young researchers (9 ESR and 3 ER fellows). NORA thus educates a new generation of nitrogen researchers, within both academic and private sectors, with inter- and cross-disciplinary skills (molecular biology, biochemistry, ecology, biogeochemistry, mathematics, engineering) and understanding and appreciation of both fundamental science and its application to tackle environmental, industrial and societal issues.

Science and technology
The overarching scientific goal of NORA is to understand the biochemistry and ecophysiology that underpins N2O emissions, improve the assessment of the emissions and to find mitigation options. This was reached through the integration of detailed biochemical approaches, microbiology and physiology studies of relevant organisms (model organisms and newly isolated strains), microbial ecology of complex systems (soils and wastewaters), field emission studies and advanced technological development. The specific key objectives were also reached:
• Mathematical models of model organisms have been developed and used to improve understanding of the regulatory biology of denitrification.
• Increased knowledge was obtained about regulatory responses of isolated key strains and relationships between genotypes and phenotypes.
• Relationships between microbial community function and composition were characterized and quantified in relation to selected environmental factors (fertilizer regime; pH; copper).
• Predictive models were used to assess and predict the influence of land management on N2O emissions.

Research highlights:
- Novel regulatory mechanisms were revealed, which determine the efficacy by which different denitrifying bacteria act as sinks or sources for N2O. The dependency of pH and Cu for correct assembly of the N2O reductase was confirmed and novel, putative Cu chaperones were detected.
- In-depth assessment of the potential N2O production by fungal metabolism which demonstrate that its contribution to N2O emission is marginal compared to that of heterotrophic bacterial denitrification.
- Improved understanding and assessment of N2O production/reduction by DNRA organisms (Dissimilatory Nitrate Reduction to Ammonia) suggest that these organisms are sinks rather than sources of N2O.
- Comparative physiology of ammonia oxidizing archaea (AOA) and bacteria (AOB) indicate that so-called nitrifier denitrification is a marginal source of N2O.
- N2O emissions can be reduced by slow release fertilizers; and by NO3- (versus NH4+-) based fertilizers
- Non-denitrifier bacteria carrying nosZII genes could act as sinks for N2O emissions from agricultural soils.
- Wastewater treatments plants harbor organisms with strong N2O reducing capacity, which should be further exploited to reduce point emissions.
- A novel field robot for measurements of N2O emissions has been developed, allowing effective monitoring of field experiments.
- Implementation of predictive biogeochemical models showing good agreement with measured N2O emissions in field trials.

Training and outreach
NORA has fostered a new generation of nitrogen researchers, within both academic and private sectors, well trained in molecular biology, biochemistry, ecology, biogeochemistry, mathematical modelling, and engineering. NORA has organized five summer schools on relevant themes including Biology of N-transformations; Systems biology and biochemistry of N2O producing bacteria; Wastewater treatment technologies; Entrepreneurial skills; IPR; Omics technologies; and Popular scientific writing. Overall 35 secondments were completed, where NORA fellows visited both academic and private sector. Two workshops, open to researchers outside NORA were arranged; one on mathematical modeling (Brussels, 2014), and one on “Gas flux measurements in terrestrial ecosystems" (Gothenburg, 2015). As a final, open conference NORA organized the 21st European N-cycle meeting, where scientific results achieved by NORA were presented by several of the partners.

Primary impact is through education of a new generation of European N-researchers with deep understanding and broad orientation, and through generation of genuinely new knowledge of the microbial metabolisms which control N2O emissions. Some of the results have already been published in scientific journals, and a total of 35 articles are expected, including several in high impact journals. The findings have also been transmitted to a wide audience through public lectures, articles in newspapers and popular magazines, and a documentary broadcasted by Euronews. Applicable recommendations for mitigation of N2O emissions include soil pH management, assessment of soil Cu content and use of slow-release fertilizers which are expected to guide policy makers in the future. NORA has contributed to the advancement of robotic approaches to effectively monitor N2O emission from field experiments.