Professor Edward Cocking, at the University of Nottingham, has developed a process which enables all crops to take nitrogen from the air rather than from environmentally damaging fertilisers.

Nitrogen fixation is the process by which plants convert nitrogen is ammonia which is vital for plants to survive and grow.The vast majority of plants obtain their nitrogen from the soil. For most crops, this also means a reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.

But the use of nitrogen fertiliser results in pollution of the atmosphere by ammonia and oxides of nitrogen and causes oxygen-depleted "dead zones" in waterways and oceans.

Professor Cocking, who is a leading world expert in nitrogen and plant science, has developed a unique method of putting nitrogen-fixing bacteria into the cells of plant roots. His breakthrough came when he found a specific strain of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in sugarcane which could intracellularly colonise all major crop plants.

This development potentially provides every cell in the plant with the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. The implications of this discovery for agriculture are enormous as this new technology can provide much of the plant's nitrogen needs.

Professor Cocking said: "Helping plants to naturally obtain the nitrogen they need is a key aspect of World Food Security. The world needs to unhook itself from its ever increasing reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertilisers produced from fossil fuels with its high economic costs, its pollution of the environment and its high energy costs."

It is expected that the technology will be commercially available within two or three years.