Plant Science

Improving nitrogen use efficiency in rice

Scientists identified candidate genes for nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) in rice that may help crop improvement

July 14, 2021
The Scitech

In a major boost to the scientific efforts for crop improvement to save nitrogenous pollution and fertilizers worth billions, Indian biotechnologists identified candidate genes for nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) in rice. This was accomplished by Prof. Nandula Raghuram, Dr. Supriya Kumari and Dr. Narendra Sharma from the School of Biotechnology, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi. Their findings have been published in the premier international journal, Frontiers in Plant Science. Analysing over 16,600 genes compiled from their own research and dozens of others, they systematically shortlisted “62 candidate genes”; they further narrowed them down to “06 high priority target genes” for their potential to improve NUE in rice.

“Every year, urea worth Rs. 50,000 crores (5 billion) is lost from Indian farms, with rice and wheat accounting for about two-thirds of it”, says Raghuram, who led the research. “This loss roughly equals the annual government subsidy on urea. We can neither afford such waste of money, nor the pollution it causes” he says.  “Half of the solution lies in biological crop improvement, while the other half can come from improving fertilizer formulations and cropping practices. Rice is an ideal target crop for this, but the main challenge was the lack of identified or predicted gene targets for crop improvement. We now offer them to the scientific community to collectively fast forward crop improvement”, says Raghuram.

Supriya Kumari and Narendra Sharma compiled a list of 14,791 rice genes involved in nitrogen response and 1,842 genes involved in yield, totaling 16,633 to begin with. They identified 1064 genes common to both for further shortlisting, as NUE involves both N input and grain yield output. “Using a series of genetic and bioinformatic tools, we hierarchically shortlisted them to 62 genes, most of which were located on chromosome 1 and 3” says Kumari. Further, “using machine learning tools, we narrowed them down to 6 high priority target genes” says Sharma.

“NUE is controlled by too many genes and shortlisting them is very important for crop improvement towards NUE”, says Dr. Subramanyam Desiraju, co-principal investigator of the SANH project from the Indian Institute of Rice Research, Hyderabad.  According to Indian Nitrogen Assessment, rice is important for NUE, as it consumes 37% of all N-fertilizers in India, the highest among all crops on account of its lowest NUE.

Source: India Science Wire release