Plant & cell physiology

High and Low Affinity Urea Root Uptake: Involvement of NIP5;1.

PMID 25957355


Urea is the most widespread nitrogen (N) fertilizer worldwide and is rapidly degraded in soil to ammonium by urease. Ammonium is either taken up by plant roots or is further processed to nitrate by soil microorganisms. However, urea can be taken up by roots and is further degraded to ammonium by plant urease for assimilation. When urea is supplied under sterile conditions, it acts as a poor N source for seedlings or adult Arabidopsis thaliana plants. Here, the gene expression of young seedlings exposed to urea and ammonium nitrate nutrition was compared. Several primary metabolism and transport genes, including those for nitrate and urea, were differentially expressed in seedlings. However, urease and most major intrinsic proteins were not differentially expressed, with the exception of NIP6;1, a urea-permeable channel, which was repressed. Furthermore, little overlap with the gene expression with ammonium as the sole N source was observed, confirming that pure urea nutrition is not associated with the ammonium toxicity syndrome in seedlings. The direct root uptake of urea was increased under boron deficiency, in both the high and low affinity range. This activity was entirely mediated by the NIP5;1 channel, which was confirmed to transport urea when expressed in oocytes. The uptake of urea in the high and low affinity range was also determined for maize and wheat roots. The urea uptake by maize roots was only about half that of wheat, but was not stimulated by boron deficiency or N deficiency in either species. This analysis identifies novel components of the urea uptake systems in plants, which may become agronomically relevant to urea uptake and utilization, as stabilized urea fertilizers become increasingly popular.