Old Year’s Honours in a fix?

Image: US Environmental Protection Agency.
Image: US Environmental Protection Agency.

As we all ponder the merits – or otherwise – of the UK’s monarch’s traditional – and annual! – New Year’s Honours’ List, let’s take a few minutes to pause and reflect on one of the most significant plant-based honours of the Old Year. Whilst we acknowledge that those who botanise (in its broadest meaning) are unlikely to get a Nobel Prize for their efforts, one worthy who managed to make the trip to Stockholm (Sweden) was Professor Ray Dixon (of the John Innes Centre [JIC], Norwich, UK). Sadly, the award was not a ‘Nobel’. It wasn’t even an Ig Nobel Prize – which is probably just as well(!). It was, however, an honorary doctorate from Stockholm University (which is not a bad award to get), presented in recognition of his four decades of research into aspects of the biology of bacterial nitrogen-fixation. Commenting on Ray’s Day, Professor Dale Sanders (Head of the JIC) praised the work of Dixon – and his group – and hoped that he ‘will continue to extend research boundaries and to provide global solutions to nitrogen use efficiency in plants and microorganisms’. Dixon is no stranger to awards for his work: in 1999 he was elected a Fellow of the überprestigious ‘Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge’ (FRS) for his major contributions to understanding the genetic basis of nitrogen fixation. Let us hope that the promise and legacy of research into biological N-fixation – highly prized as it so evidently and rightly is – is a little better than that attributed to the human-engineered synthesis of ammonia from hydrogen and nitrogen encapsulated in the Haber–Bosch process.