Carbon Dioxide Enrichment Inhibits Nitrate Assimilation in Wheat and Arabidopsis

Science  14 May 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5980, pp. 899-903
DOI: 10.1126/science.1186440

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Nitrate for Me, Ammonium for You

The interdependence of plant nitrogen uptake and plant responses to carbon dioxide is well established, but the influence of inorganic nitrogen form—i.e., whether nitrate or ammonium—has been largely ignored. Bloom et al. (p. 899) present evidence from five independent methods in both a monocot and dicot species that carbon dioxide inhibition of nitrate assimilation is a major determinant of plant responses to rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. This finding explains several phenomena, including carbon dioxide acclimation and decline in food quality. The large variation in these phenomena among species, locations, or years derives from the large variation in the relative dependence of plants on nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen sources among species, locations, or years. The relative importance of ammonium and nitrate for plant N nutrition in future cropping systems will be critical for quantity and quality of food.


The concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere may double by the end of the 21st century. The response of higher plants to a carbon dioxide doubling often includes a decline in their nitrogen status, but the reasons for this decline have been uncertain. We used five independent methods with wheat and Arabidopsis to show that atmospheric carbon dioxide enrichment inhibited the assimilation of nitrate into organic nitrogen compounds. This inhibition may be largely responsible for carbon dioxide acclimation, the decrease in photosynthesis and growth of plants conducting C3 carbon fixation after long exposures (days to years) to carbon dioxide enrichment. These results suggest that the relative availability of soil ammonium and nitrate to most plants will become increasingly important in determining their productivity as well as their quality as food.

  • Present address: Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, University of California at Davis, Davis, CA 95616, USA.

  • Present address: School of Biological Sciences, Post Office Box 646340, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164–6340, USA.

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