Review Article

Nitrogen transformations in modern agriculture and the role of biological nitrification inhibition

  • Nature Plants 3, Article number: 17074 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/nplants.2017.74
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Abstract

The nitrogen (N)-use efficiency of agricultural plants is notoriously poor. Globally, about 50% of the N fertilizer applied to cropping systems is not absorbed by plants, but lost to the environment as ammonia (NH3), nitrate (NO3), and nitrous oxide (N2O, a greenhouse gas with 300 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide), raising agricultural production costs and contributing to pollution and climate change. These losses are driven by volatilization of NH3 and by a matrix of nitrification and denitrification reactions catalysed by soil microorganisms (chiefly bacteria and archaea). Here, we discuss mitigation of the harmful and wasteful process of agricultural N loss via biological nitrification inhibitors (BNIs) exuded by plant roots. We examine key recent discoveries in the emerging field of BNI research, focusing on BNI compounds and their specificity and transport, and discuss prospects for their role in improving agriculture while reducing its environmental impact.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Strategic Priority Research Program (B)—‘Soil-microbial system function and regulation’ of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Biological Sciences and Canadian Centre for World Hunger Research (CCWHR), University of Toronto, 1265 Military Trail, Toronto, Ontario M1C 1A4, Canada.

    • Devrim Coskun
    • , Dev T. Britto
    •  & Herbert J. Kronzucker
  2. State Key Laboratory of Soil and Sustainable Agriculture, Institute of Soil Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Nanjing 210008, China.

    • Weiming Shi
  3. School of BioSciences, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3010, Australia.

    • Herbert J. Kronzucker

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Herbert J. Kronzucker.