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  1. In agricultural cropping systems, relatively large amounts of nitrogen (N) are applied for plant growth and development, and to achieve high yields. However, with increasing N application, plant N use efficiency generally decreases, which results in losses of N into the environment and subsequently detrimental consequences for both ecosystems and human health. A strategy for reducing N input and environmental losses while maintaining or increasing plant performance is the development of crops that effectively obtain, distribute, and utilize the available N. Generally, N is acquired from the soil in the inorganic forms of nitrate or ammonium and assimilated in rootsmore »or leaves as amino acids. The amino acids may be used within the source organs, but they are also the principal N compounds transported from source to sink in support of metabolism and growth. N uptake, synthesis of amino acids, and their partitioning within sources and toward sinks, as well as N utilization within sinks represent potential bottlenecks in the effective use of N for vegetative and reproductive growth. This review addresses recent discoveries in N metabolism and transport and their relevance for improving N use efficiency under high and low N conditions.« less
  2. Nitrogen (N) is an essential but generally limiting nutrient for biological systems. Development of the Haber-Bosch industrial process for ammonia synthesis helped to relieve N limitation of agricultural production, fueling the Green Revolution and reducing hunger. However, the massive use of industrial N fertilizer has doubled the N moving through the global N cycle with dramatic environmental consequences that threaten planetary health. Thus, there is an urgent need to reduce losses of reactive N from agriculture, while ensuring sufficient N inputs for food security. Here we review current knowledge related to N use efficiency (NUE) in agriculture and identify researchmore »opportunities in the areas of agronomy, plant breeding, biological N fixation (BNF), soil N cycling, and modeling to achieve responsible, sustainable use of N in agriculture. Amongst these opportunities, improved agricultural practices that synchronize crop N demand with soil N availability are low-hanging fruit. Crop breeding that targets root and shoot physiological processes will likely increase N uptake and utilization of soil N, while breeding for BNF effectiveness in legumes will enhance overall system NUE. Likewise, engineering of novel N-fixing symbioses in non-legumes could reduce the need for chemical fertilizers in agroecosystems but is a much longer-term goal. The use of simulation modeling to conceptualize the complex, interwoven processes that affect agroecosystem NUE, along with multi-objective optimization, will also accelerate NUE gains.« less