Plant Science Innovation, Center for


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Grzybowski et al. BMC Plant Biology (2022) 22:433


Open access.


Background: Access to biologically available nitrogen is a key constraint on plant growth in both natural and agricultural settings. Variation in tolerance to nitrogen deficit stress and productivity in nitrogen limited conditions exists both within and between plant species. However, our understanding of changes in different phenotypes under long term low nitrogen stress and their impact on important agronomic traits, such as yield, is still limited.

Results: Here we quantified variation in the metabolic, physiological, and morphological responses of a sorghum association panel assembled to represent global genetic diversity to long term, nitrogen deficit stress and the relationship of these responses to grain yield under both conditions. Grain yield exhibits substantial genotype by environment interaction while many other morphological and physiological traits exhibited consistent responses to nitrogen stress across the population. Large scale nontargeted metabolic profiling for a subset of lines in both conditions identified a range of metabolic responses to long term nitrogen deficit stress. Several metabolites were associated with yield under high and low nitrogen conditions.

Conclusion: Our results highlight that grain yield in sorghum, unlike many morpho-physiological traits, exhibits substantial variability of genotype specific responses to long term low severity nitrogen deficit stress. Metabolic response to long term nitrogen stress shown higher proportion of variability explained by genotype specific responses than did morpho-pysiological traits and several metabolites were correlated with yield. This suggest, that it might be possible to build predictive models using metabolite abundance to estimate which sorghum genotypes will exhibit greater or lesser decreases in yield in response to nitrogen deficit, however further research needs to be done to evaluate such model.