GM Crop that Needs Less Fertilizer

Canadian Scientists have successfully developed genetically modified (GM) rice plants that take-up and metabolise nitrogen more efficiently, thereby reducing the need for nitrogen fertilizers and increasing yields.

Nitrogen is quantitatively the most essential nutrient for plants and a major factor limiting crop productivity. Plants are particularly inefficient at acquiring nitrogen from applied fertilizer, and as a result, excess nitrogen frequently leaches from the soil into waterways and damages aquatic ecosystems, or volatizes to nitrous oxide, an atmospheric greenhouse gas.

To meet growing food demands, the global use of nitrogen increased from 3.5 million metric tonnes (MT) in 1960 to 87 million MT in 2000, and is projected to increase to 249 million MT by the year 2050. Clearly, the importance of developing agricultural crops with enhanced nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) cannot be understated. These crops not only have the potential to lower production costs and reduce environmental pollution, but their increased productively could make a significant contribution to our long-term food security.

Given the complexity of plant physiology, research into the production of transgenic plants with increased NUE is ongoing. Ultimately, all GM crops must be thoroughly assessed on a case-by-case- basis to ensure they meet the stringent safety regulations required by legislation before they can be considered for commercial use.

Source Article: Shrawat, A.K., Carrol, R.T., DePaum, M. et al. (2008). Genetic engineering of improved nitrogen use efficiency in rice by the tissue-specific expression of alanine aminotransferase. Plant Biotechnology Journal. 6: 722-732.