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Management of nitrogen and crops productivity
 research groups

Keywords : Assimilation, nitrogen, mobilization, circadian rhythm, quantitative genetics, grain, phloem

Doctoral school affiliation : ED 567 Sciences du végétal, Université Paris-Saclay

Contacts :

Institut Jean-Pierre Bourgin, UMR1318 INRAE-AgroParisTech
Bâtiment 3
INRAE Centre de Versailles-Grignon
Route de St-Cyr (RD10)
78026 Versailles Cedex France

tél : +33 (0)1 30 83 30 00 - fax : +33 (0)1 30 83 33 19

Group leader
Bertrand Hirel
Senior Scientist CNRS

Alia Dellagi
Professor AgroParisTech

Martine Rigault
Assistant Engineer AgroParisTech



Isabelle Quilleré-Ducher

Lenaïg Guillard


Bérengère Decouard


Summary :

Our overall objective is to better understand and improve nitrogen use efficiency (NUE: Nitrogen Use Efficiency) in maize and wheat. Indeed these two plants, which represent with rice the main food and feed supply in the world, require significant inputs of nitrogen fertilizer (especially nitrogen) to obtain optimum yield. Improving NUE is a major challenge, considering the growing demand for agricultural products of the world's population, the rising cost of fossil fuels needed for the production of nitrogen fertilizers and the water pollution caused by the application of excess nitrate to cultivated lands. Therefore, it is necessary to select new varieties of maize and wheat, less demanding in nitrogen fertilization (20 to 30% less), with both high productivity and good grain quality (protein content, in particular).

Main Results :

In recent years, studies have been undertaken to identify the limiting steps of the absorption, assimilation and recycling of nitrogen during plant growth and development in general and in cereals in particular. Our team has made significant progress in understanding the mechanisms of assimilation and recycling of nitrogen during vegetative growth and during the grain filling period. This work was conducted in collaboration with agronomists and geneticists in the public sector at the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA;, and with our private partner (BIOGEMMA; http:/ / through the program GENOPLANTE ( We have developed a multidisciplinary approach combining molecular physiology and agronomy to study in an integrated manner the regulation of plant nitrogen management. These include the absorption of nitrogen before and after flowering and its remobilization to the grain after pollination. Our group has also developed a quantitative genetics approach (with Prof. A. Gallais at the INRA / CNRS. University of Paris XI, the UMR Plant Genetics, the Farm Moulon, Gif sur Yvette, Http: // moulon. GQMS.html) to identify key genes involved in the regulation of nitrogen management and to exploit the genetic variability for selecting new varieties with improved NUE. A search for QTLs (Quantitative Trait Loci) has been undertaken to associate agronomic performance with metabolic functions related to the absorption of nitrogen on a maize genetic map. Finding co-localisations between QTLs for yield and their components and genes encoding cytosolic glutamine synthetase (GS1) has been one of the most significant outcomes of this study. We have established that GS1 controls one of the limiting steps in maize kernel production, since kernel number was strongly reduced in mutants deficient in GS1 and increased in plants overexpressing the enzyme. We are currently searching for other candidate genes involved in the control of NUE in maize and wheat by combining transcriptome, proteome and whole plant physiology approaches.

Under nitrogen suboptimal conditions (N+) a mutant deficient for the cytosolic GS isoenzyme GS1-4 (gln1-4) exhibits a reduction of kernel size compared to the wild type (WT) whereas in a mutant deficient for GS1-3 (gln1-3) there is a reduction of kernel number. In the gln1-3/1-4 doublemutanta cumulative effect of the two mutations was observed. Under nitrogen deficient conditions (N-) the ear of the WT exhibits a severe reduction in kernel number, whereas the three mutants did not produce any kernels. This observation suggests that GS1-4 and GS1-3 control grain yield in maize whatever the level of nitrogen fertilisation.

Selected Publications :

Verzeaux, J. Hirel, B., Dubois, F., Tetu, T. 2017 Agricultural practices to improve nitrogen use efficiency through the use of arbuscular mycorrhizae: basic and agronomic aspects. Plant Science 264:48-56.

Habbib H, Hirel B, Verzeaux J, Roger D, Lacoux J, Lea PJ, Dubois F, Tetu T 2017. Investigating the combined effect of tillage, nitrogen fertilization and cover crops on nitrogen use efficiency in winter wheat. Agronomy 7: 66

Cañas, R.A., Yesbergenova-Cuny, Z., Simons, M., Chardon, F., Armengaud, P., Quilleré, I., Cukier, C., Gibon, G., Limami, A.M., Nicolas, S., Brulé, L., Lea, P.J., Maranas, C.D., Hirel, B. 2017 Exploiting the genetic diversity of maize using a combined metabolomic, enzyme activity profiling, and metabolic modelling approach to link leaf physiology to kernel yield. The Plant Cell 29: 919–943.

Brusamarello-Santos, L.C., Gilard, F., Brulé, L., Quilleré, I., Gourion, B., Ratet, P., Maltempi de Souza, E., Lea, P.J., Hirel, B. 2017. Metabolic profiling of two maize (Zea mays L.) inbred lines inoculated with the nitrogen fixing plant-interacting bacteria Herbaspirillum seropedicae and Azospirillum brasilense. PloS ONE12(3): e0174576.

Habbib, H., Verzeaux, J., Nivelle, E., Roger, D., Lacoux, J., Catterou M., Hirel, B., Dubois, F., Tétu T. 2016. Conversion to no-till improves maize nitrogen use efficiency in a continuous cover cropping system. PloS ONE 11(10): e0164234.

Tercé-Laforgue T., Clément G., Marchi L., Restivo F.M., Lea P.J., Hirel B. 2015. Resolving the role of plant NAD-glutamate dehydrogenase:III. Overexpressing individually or simultaneously the two enzyme subunits under salt stress induces changes in the leaf metabolic profile and increases plant biomass production. Plant Cell Physiol. 56 : 1918-1929.

Simons M., Saha R., Amiour A., Kumar A., Guillard L., Clément G., Miquel M., Li Z., Mouille G., Lea P.J., Hirel B., Maranas C.D. 2014. Assessing the metabolic impact of nitrogen availability using a compartmentalized maize leaf genome-scale model. Plant Physiol. 166 : 1659-1674.

Simons M., Saha R., Guillard L., Clément G., Armengaud P., Cañas R., Maranas C.D., Lea P.J., Hirel B., 2014. Nitrogen use efficiency in maize (Zea mays L.): from “omics” studies to metabolic modelling. J. Exp. Bot. 65: 5657-5671.

Tercé-Laforgue T., Bedu M., Dargel-Graffin C., Dubois F., Gibon Y., Restivo F.M., Hirel B., 2013. Resolving the role of plant glutamate dehydrogenase: II. Physiological Characterization of plants overexpressing individually or simultaneously the two enzyme subunits. Plant. Cell. Physiol. 54 : 1634-1647.

Fontaine J.X., Tercé-Laforgue T., Armengaud P. , Clément G., Renou J.P., Pelletier S., Catterou M., Azzopardi M., Gibon Y., Lea P.J., Hirel B., Dubois F. 2012. Characterization of a NADH-dependent glutamate dehydrogenase mutant of Arabidopsis demonstrates the key role of this enzyme in root carbon and nitrogen metabolism. The Plant Cell 24: 4044-4065

Amiour N., Imbaud S., Clement G., Agier N., Zivy M., Valot B., Balliau T., Armengaud P., Quilleré I. , Cañas R.A., Tercé-Laforgue T., Hirel B. 2012. The use of metabolomics integrated with transcriptomic and proteomic studies for identifying key steps involved in the control of nitrogen metabolism in crops such as maize. J. Exp. Bot. 63 : 5017-5033.

Cañas R.A., Quilleré I., Gallais A., Hirel B. 2012. Can genetic variability for nitrogen metabolism in the developing ear of maize be exploited to improve yield? New Phytol. 194 : 440-452.

Hirel B., Tétu T., Lea P.J., Dubois F. 2011. Improving nitrogen use efficiency in crops for a sustainable agriculture. Sustainability 3: 1452-1485.

Cañas R.A., Amiour N., Quilleré I., Hirel B. 2011. An integrated statistical analysis of the genetic variability of nitrogen metabolism in the ear of three maize inbred lines (Zea mays L). J Exp. Bot. 62 :2309-2318.

Labboun S., Tercé-Laforgue T., Roscher A., Bedu M., Restivo F.M., Velanis C.N., Skopelitis D.S., Moshou P.N., Roubelakis-Angelakis K.A., Suzuki A., Hirel B. 2009. Resolving the role of plant glutamate dehydrogenase: I. In vivo real time nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy experiments. Plant. Cell. Physiol. 50 : 1761-1773.

Fontaine J.X., Ravel C., Pageau K., Heumez E., Dubois F., Hirel B., Le Gouis J. 2009 A quantitative genetic study for elucidating the contribution of glutamine synthetase, glutamate dehydrogenase and other nitrogen-related physiological traits to the agronomic performance of common wheat. Theor. Appl. Genet. 119: 645-662.



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