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Research advances on NPF gene families in plant nitrogen uptake and utilization

WANG Hua-dun;ZHANG Peng;MA Hong-xiang;Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences/Jiangsu Key Laboratory for Agrobiology;College of Agriculture, Yangzhou University/Co-Innovation Centre for Modern Production Technology of Grain Crops of Jiangsu Province/Jiangsu Key Lab of Crop Genomics and Molecular Breeding;  
Nitrogen(N) is a primary mineral nutrient for plant growth and development as well as the limiting factor for crop yield. Nitrate is one of the major N sources for plant uptake and utilization. Four gene families including NPF, NRT2, CLC and SLAC1/SLAH have been reported to be involved in the process of nitrate uptake and utilization. Among the four gene families, the NPF family has a large number of members and diverse functions, which have attracted more attention and in-depth research in recent years. There are 53, 93, 79 and as many as 331 NPF genes in the model plant Arabidopsis and the main food crops – rice, maize, and wheat,respectively. The biological functions of more than half members(31/53) of Arabidopsis NPF family have been characterized, and reports on the functions of NPF genes in crop such as rice are emerging. Research revealed that NPF genes are widely involved in processes of plant nitrogen uptake and its regulation, transport, distribution and re-distribution, and some members play important roles in the modification and improvement of crop nitrogen use efficiency(NUE). Consequently, it is highly pertinent to unravel the mechanism underlying plant nitrogen utilization and genetic improvement by exploring candidate NPF genes from the perspective of nitrogen flow.This paper reviewed the biological functions of NPF genes in the model plant Arabidopsis and crops. At the moment, only 4 members of NPF genes in maize were reported with biological functions, and none of the NPF genes in wheat were reported with biological function. The exploration and studies on the NPF genes of crops such as maize and wheat will provide gene resources for future researches on crop NUE improvement and highNUE crop breeding.
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