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Engineering phosphorus metabolism in plants to produce a dual fertilization and weed control system

Nature Biotechnology volume 30, pages 889893 (2012) | Download Citation


High crop yields depend on the continuous input of orthophosphate (PO4−3)-based fertilizers and herbicides1,2. Two major challenges for agriculture are that phosphorus is a nonrenewable resource and that weeds have developed broad herbicide resistance3,4,5. One strategy to overcome both problems is to engineer plants to outcompete weeds and microorganisms for limiting resources, thereby reducing the requirement for both fertilizers and herbicides. Plants and most microorganisms are unable to metabolize phosphite (PO3−3), so we developed a dual fertilization and weed control system by generating transgenic plants that can use phosphite as a sole phosphorus source. Under greenhouse conditions, these transgenic plants require 30–50% less phosphorus input when fertilized with phosphite to achieve similar productivity to that obtained by the same plants using orthophosphate fertilizer and, when in competition with weeds, accumulate 2–10 times greater biomass than when fertilized with orthophosphate.

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We thank O. Martínez for advice in statistical analysis; M.A. Leyva, A. Vera and J.L. Cabrera for technical support; K. Wrobel and K. Wrobel for the phosphite detection method; V. Limones for assistance in Tobacco transformation and C. Castro and E. Alva in Arabidopsis greenhouse experiments. We are grateful to A. Estrada, J.D. Frier and Universidad Autónoma Chapingo for providing Brachypodium distachyon, Amaranthus hybridus and Ipomoea purpurea and Brachiaria plantaginea seeds, respectively; and C. Morales for assistance in photosynthesis measurements. We thank S. Gillmore and V. Albert for critical reading this manuscript. This work was supported in part by grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (grant 55005946) to L.H.-E. D.L.L.-A. is indebted to CONACyT, México, for a PhD fellowship (no. 207308). pWM302 was a gift from W.W. Metcalf.

Author information


  1. Laboratorio Nacional de Genómica para la Biodiversidad, Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados del Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Irapuato, Guanajuato, México.

    • Damar Lizbeth López-Arredondo
    •  & Luis Herrera-Estrella


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D.L.L.-A. and L.H.-E. designed experiments, analyzed data and wrote the paper. D.L.L.-A. performed experiments.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Luis Herrera-Estrella.

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