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Nitrogen-use efficiency (NUE) of cereals needs to be improved by nitrogen (N) management, traditional plant breeding methods and/or biotechnology, while maintaining or, optimally, increasing crop yields. The aims of this study were to compare spring-barley genotypes grown on different nitrogen levels in field and growth-chamber conditions to determine the effects on N uptake (NUpE) and N utilization efficiency (NUtE) and ultimately, NUE.
Morphological characteristics, seed yield and metabolite levels of 12 spring barley (Hordeum vulgare) genotypes were compared when grown at high and low nitrogen levels in field conditions during the 2007 and 2008 Canadian growing seasons, and in potted and hydroponic growth-chamber conditions. Genotypic NUpE, NUtE and NUE were calculated and compared between field and growth-chamber environments.
Growth chamber and field tests generally showed consistent NUE characteristics. In the field, Vivar, Excel and Ponoka, showed high NUE phenotypes across years and N levels. Vivar also had high NUE in growth-chamber trials, showing NUE across complex to simplistic growth environments. With the high NUE genotypes grown at low N in the field, NUtE predominates over NUpE. N metabolism-associated amino acid levels were different between roots (elevated glutamine) and shoots (elevated glutamate and alanine) of hydroponically grown genotypes. In field trials, metabolite levels were different between Kasota grown at high N (elevated glutamine) and Kasota at low N plus Vivar at either N condition.
Determining which trait(s) or gene(s) to target to improve barley NUE is important and can be facilitated using simplified growth approaches to help determine the NUE phenotype of various genotypes. The genotypes studied showed similar growth and NUE characteristics across field and growth-chamber tests demonstrating that simplified, low-variable growth environments can help pinpoint genetic targets for improving spring barley NUE.