Crops engineered to consume less nitrogen fertilizer could protect vulnerable ecosystems

Bms rice planting rwg

Rice, wheat and other grains that have been bred to produce larger harvests using less land have been critical to feeding Earth’s population in the past 50 years. But these crops come with a significant cost: Their thirst for the chemical nutrients in fertilizer contributes to pollution that threatens air, land and sea. Now a team of scientists has genetically engineered new high-yield grain varieties that require less fertilizer ….

The green revolution of the 1950s and ’60s supercharged agricultural production worldwide, thanks to breeding innovations, added fertilizer and other management technologies. Crop yields boomed, nourishing millions. “In that time people just wanted food security,” says Xiangdong Fu, a plant geneticist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. But it soon became clear the heavy use of nitrogen fertilizer wreaks havoc on ecosystems.

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Fu and his team think they’ve found the key in grains’ genes. Their survey of the DNA of 36 rice varieties revealed a gene encoding growth-regulating factor 4 (GRF4), a protein that enhanced both nitrogen uptake and growth. But the nitrogen-hungry crops also owe their efficiency to a family of growth-suppressing proteins called DELLA, which yield more diminutive plants that can better withstand strong weather. Using genetic engineering, the team tipped the GRF4–DELLA balance by increasing expression of the GRF4-producing gene, the authors wrote …. in Nature.

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Read full, original article: Rice Genes Could Be Key to Stemming Nitrogen Pollution

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