Physiological and Genetic Mechanisms for Nitrogen-Use Efficiency in Maize

  • Mi, Guohua (The Key Laboratory of Plant Nutrition and Nutrient Cycling, MOA, Key Laboratory of Plant-Soil Interactions, MOE, Department of Plant Nutrition, China Agricultural University) ;
  • Chen, Fanjun (The Key Laboratory of Plant Nutrition and Nutrient Cycling, MOA, Key Laboratory of Plant-Soil Interactions, MOE, Department of Plant Nutrition, China Agricultural University) ;
  • Zhang, Fusuo (The Key Laboratory of Plant Nutrition and Nutrient Cycling, MOA, Key Laboratory of Plant-Soil Interactions, MOE, Department of Plant Nutrition, China Agricultural University)
  • Published : 2007.06.30

Abstract

Due to the strong influence of nitrogen(N) on plant productivity, a vast amount of N fertilizers is used to maximize crop yield. Over-use of N fertilizers leads to severe pollution of the environment, especially the aquatic ecosystem, as well as reducing farmer's income. Growing of N-efficient cultivars is an important prerequisite for integrated nutrient management strategies in both low- and high-input agriculture. Taking maize as a sample crop, this paper reviews the response of plants to low N stress, the physiological processes which may control N-use efficiency in low-N input conditions, and the genetic and molecular biological aspects of N-use efficiency. Since the harvest index(HI) of modern cultivars is quite high, further improvement of these cultivars to adapt to low N soils should aim to increase their capacity to accumulate N at low N levels. To achieve this goal, establishment and maintenance of a large root system during the growth period may be essential. To reduce the cost of N and carbon for root growth, a strong response of lateral root growth to nitrate-rich patches may be desired. Furthermore, a large proportion of N accumulated in roots at early growth stages should be remobilized for grain growth in the late filling stage to increase N-utilization efficiency. Some QTLs and genes related to maize yield as well as root traits have been identified. However, their significance in improving maize NUE at low N inputs in the field need to be elucidated.