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Annu Rev Plant Biol. 2012;63:153-82. doi: 10.1146/annurev-arplant-042811-105532. Epub 2012 Jan 3.

Plant nitrogen assimilation and use efficiency.

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  • 1State Key Laboratory of Crop Genetics and Germplasm Enhancement, College of Resources and Environmental Sciences, Nanjing Agricultural University, Nanjing, China.


Crop productivity relies heavily on nitrogen (N) fertilization. Production and application of N fertilizers consume huge amounts of energy, and excess is detrimental to the environment; therefore, increasing plant N use efficiency (NUE) is essential for the development of sustainable agriculture. Plant NUE is inherently complex, as each step-including N uptake, translocation, assimilation, and remobilization-is governed by multiple interacting genetic and environmental factors. The limiting factors in plant metabolism for maximizing NUE are different at high and low N supplies, indicating great potential for improving the NUE of current cultivars, which were bred in well-fertilized soil. Decreasing environmental losses and increasing the productivity of crop-acquired N requires the coordination of carbohydrate and N metabolism to give high yields. Increasing both the grain and N harvest index to drive N acquisition and utilization are important approaches for breeding future high-NUE cultivars.

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