Scientists from ACPFG have described for the first time how plants adapt their ability to capture nitrogen from the soil when it is in short supply.
The team, based at the University of Adelaide, the University of Melbourne and Pioneer Hi-Bred in the US, is the first to show how plants adapt to changing nitrogen levels, making way for more nitrogen efficient plants.
‘Nitrogen is crucial for plant growth with plants being made of almost 4% nitrogen. For this reason a huge amount of nitrogen fertiliser, over 100 million tonnes, is applied to crops each year. ’ said ACPFG’s Dr Trevor Garnett.
‘Making nitrogen fertiliser is expensive because it uses a lot of energy which itself has a major environmental impact. Unfortunately plants don’t take up nitrogen fertiliser that well, with about half of the nitrogen not getting into the plant. The nitrogen not taken up by plants leads to a range of other environmental problems, the easiest to see being algal blooms and wide scale fish kills where rivers reach the sea.’ said Dr Garnett.
Nitrogen pollution has been ranked alongside climate change and biodiversity loss as some of the most significant impacts of human population on the planet . Most of this nitrogen being fixed is to maintain yields of food crops.
‘The development of new cereal varieties that are better at using nitrogen fertiliser is an important step in reducing agriculture’s hunger for nitrogen and in doing so saves farmers money and reduces environmental pollution.’ said Dr Garnett.