QA recent article in Seed Today "Arcadia Biosciences Announces Successful Field Trials of New Nitrogen Use Efficient Rice" [

A recent article in Seed Today "Arcadia Biosciences Announces Successful Field Trials of New Nitrogen Use Efficient Rice" [] reported the results of two-year trials of genetically engineered rice varieties that appear to have achieved impressive results including that at half the nitrogen fertilizer application, the varieties outyeilded the controls by 22% the first year and 30% the second year. How exactly are plants modified to increase nitrogen use efficiency, what alternatives to genetic engineering exist to endow plants with greater nitrogen use efficiency, what are the potential applications of nitrogen use efficiency traits?

AExpert Answer

One of our research priorities is developing corn hybrids that use nitrogen more efficiently. 

A corn plant utilizes nitrogen in multiple ways, including how the plant takes in nitrogen, stores it, and remobilizes it. While I can’t comment on the work by Arcadia, DuPont researchers are taking multiple approaches to developing plants that use nitrogen more efficiently. We are applying transgenic, molecular and conventional breeding methods to enhance nitrogen utilization in corn hybrids. 


One option to make a plant more nitrogen use efficient is changing root architecture to improve nitrogen uptake (which also may improve tolerance to drought, as a group of maize researchers in Africa have demonstrated). Another strategy is helping a plant more rapidly convert nitrogen into useful amino acids and proteins, or directing more nitrogen into harvestable plant parts like the grain (this is called changing the “harvest index”). Simply helping a plant stay green longer also helps by prolonging photosynthesis and put more nitrogen to use; we’ve done that, too.  


The applications for improved nitrogen use efficiency are exciting. Nitrogen is one of the most significant input costs for farmers raising corn, typically accouting for at least 20 percent of variable costs depending on crop rotation. If we can develop corn plants that deliver higher yields while maintaining the current level of nitrogen applications, that will give farmers the opportunity to reduce input cost per bushel of corn produced.  It also reduces the environmental impact of nitrogen fertilizer production, application and use.


Think of farmers in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, working in highly weathered soils with limited access to expensive nitrogen fertilizer. A crop that utilizes nitrogen better and is more productive in these difficult environments would probably be very popular with local farmers (and the consumers who rely upon them!).  In areas where nitrogen fertilizer is readily available, using that nitrogen more efficiently would save farmers money, increase yields, put more nitrogen into the crop, and leave less in the soil where it has the potential to reach surface and ground water. Developing more options for farmers, like nitrogen use efficiency, which improve productivity and environmental sustainability is what we’re about.

Posted on January 31, 2018
Thank you for your question. There are various aspects of your question. I assume your question refers to the use of Agrobacterium rhizogenes by scientists to intentionally transfer genes from the bacterium to plants. Infection and DNA transfer from this bacterium occurs in nature all the time to cause disease. Such transformed plants are not classified as GMOs since transfer occurred naturally. If this is done by scientists then it would be classified as a GMO. Rules and... Read More
Posted on March 1, 2018
I’m a Monsanto scientist who has more than 20 years of experience with genetic modification of plants. I will try to answer your question, even though I don’t ever do experiments on animals, certainly not on humans, of course! Can humans be genetically modified…but a much bigger question is should humans be genetically modified? There are two ways to think about genetic modification of humans (or any animal). One way is modification of somatic cells, and the other is the... Read More
Posted on May 10, 2017
The simple answer is that 20+ years of composition assessments of GMO crops have demonstrated that crop composition is not appreciably affected by the GM process (1). In addition, data collected through that time have indicated that general factors such as the growth environment can contribute to notable variation in component levels (2). Plant agglutinins (or lectins) and amylase inhibitors are examples of anti-nutritional compounds that may be present in crops. The relevance of such a... Read More