Towards Improved Nitrogen Efficiency – Amino Acid Transporters Take the Stage

The Focus Group “Towards Improved Nitrogen Efficiency – Amino Acid Transporters Take the Stage” involves Hans Fischer Senior Fellow Prof. Olga Boudker (Weill Cornell Medicine) and her host Prof. Claus Schwechheimer (Chair of Plant Systems Biology, TUM School of Life Sciences).

Plants require nitrogen for growth. However, producing inorganic nitrogen fertilizers is an energy-expensive process, and their application poses significant environmental problems. Amino acids are organic nitrogen-containing compounds in soil, which are the preferred nitrogen source for several plants. Breeding plants to increase the efficiency of the amino acid intake and utilization is an alternative strategy to the reliance on inorganic fertilizers. Amino acid transporters are proteins residing on the surfaces of plant cells, which take up amino acids from the environment and facilitate their distribution through plant tissues. While they are critical to the efficiency of nitrogen metabolism in plants, their molecular structure and mechanism are not understood. The Focus Group will use state-of-the-art electron microscopy to determine the near-atomic resolution structures of amino acid transporters and biophysical methods to investigate their function. Combined, these studies will reveal the mechanistic basis of transporter efficiency and pave the way to developing plants with improved amino acid utilization.