Nitrogen Use Efficiency Modification

The technology

Smart farming techniques continue to make inroads into improving fertiliser application timings to crops and improving plant N bioavailability. Nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) by plants is partly dependent on root architecture, but also a diverse group of cellular N-transporting systems which move nitrogen in its different forms from roots to stems and leaves where it is remobilised. N-partitioning between stems and leaves together with photosynthetic activity and leas senescence status define NUE. New gene editing technology is targeting different plant N-transporter genes to try and upregulate them for improved NUE and help fertiliser application. Achieved in rice, NUE modified cereal crops are still in the R&D phase.

Another disruptive technology is the introduction via a simple seed coating of a symbiotic non-nodulating bacterium from sugar cane into crop plants such as wheat. The bacterium known as Glauconacetobacter diazotrophicus symbiotically colonises wheat and can fix atmospheric N even when nitrate and ammonium fertilisers are applied. It is also able to excrete around half of its fixed N as ammonium which is then available to the plant.

How it Works

Up or downregulating N-transporter genes are targets for CRISPR gene editing and are being investigated by several researchers for developing plants which are able to better use nitrogen.

Azotic technologies have developed a patented seed coating to introduce the N-fixing bacterium Glauconacetobacter diazotrophicus into wheat plants where it develops a symbiotic interaction between and inside plant cells.  Although limited wheat field trials have been undertaken in the UK, Germany, France and USA – they all showed significantly better NUE than with fertiliser alone.

Farmer / Agronomist Benefits

Ideally suited to sustainable precision farming approaches, wheat cultivars with improved NUE can be used to reduce fertiliser applications, whilst maintaining yield.

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