Chinese scientists have found a key gene in crops that make them more efficient in utilising nitrogen fertiliser, which will help reduce the use of fertiliser.

The application of nitrogen fertiliser is an important measure to increase the yields of crops such as rice and wheat.

However, a large amount of nitrogen fertiliser also brings about ecological problems such as soil acidification and agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientists from the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences analysed the mechanisms underlying the nitrogen-use efficiency of crops and confirmed that the gene GRF4 is a positive regulator of plant nitrogen metabolism.

After increasing the expression of GRF4, crops maintained a high-yield trait while nitrogen use efficiency increased significantly.

The research enables novel breeding strategies for sustainable agriculture, according to the research team.

The research was published in the journal Nature.