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High-sorgoleone producing sorghum genetic stocks suppress soil nitrification and N2O emissions better than low-sorgoleone producing genetic stocks



Rapid nitrification leads to loss of nitrogen (N) fertilizer in agricultural systems. Plant produced/derived biological nitrification inhibitors (BNIs) are an effective eco-strategy to rein-in soil nitrification to improve crop-N uptake and nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) in production systems. Sorgoleone is the major component of hydrophobic-BNI-activity in sorghum roots. However, the role of genetic differences in sorgoleone production in reducing soil nitrification and N2O emissions are not established.


Two genetic-stocks of sorghum with high-sorgoleone (HS), and two with low-sorgoleone (LS) production from roots were grown using hydroponics in a plant-growth chamber, in soil in pots in a glasshouse, and in a field experiment. Release of hydrophilic-BNI activity from roots of HS and LS genetic stocks, sorgoleone levels in rhizosphere soils, soil nitrification rates, soil-nitrifier activity and N2O emissions were measured to understand the interplay involving sorgoleone release, hydrophilic-BNI release from roots, soil nitrification, plant growth and N uptake.


HS-producing genetic-stocks showed higher hydrophilic-BNI-capacity compared to LS- producing genetic-stocks. Biomass production and N uptake were significantly higher in HS than in LS genetic-stocks. Glasshouse and field studies suggest that HS genetic stocks had stronger suppressive impact on soil-nitrifier-populations (ammonia-oxidizing archaea and ammonia-oxidizing bacteria), soil-nitrification, and soil-N2O emissions than in LS genetic-stocks.


These results demonstrate that HS sorghum genetic-stocks suppress soil nitrifier activity and can potentially reduce N losses from NO− leaching and N2O emissions more effectively than LS genetic-stocks.

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The datasets generated during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We would like to appreciate the JIRCAS Visiting Research Fellowship Program, and thank Makoto Yamamoto, Yukiko Ishikawa, Hiroko Aoki, Yoko Koizumi, Raphael Obias Mubanga, Sanae Suzuki, Masami Aoyama for their help with the laboratory and field experiments.


This work was supported by Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS) Visiting Research Fellowship Program.

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Authors and Affiliations



XG, GVS and TY designed the experiments. XG conducted the experiments. GVS performed biological studies. TY responsible for sorgoleone analysis. PSS conducted amoA gene measurements. KU performed N2O emission measurements. XG and GVS wrote the manuscript. All authors have contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Guntur Venkata Subbarao.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Responsible Editor: Richard J. Simpson.

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Fig. S1 The correlation analysis of contrasting BNI genetic-stocks of sorghum between shoot N content and shoot dry weight in hydroponic culture, n = 12. LS genetic-stocks EC670350 and EC670402; HS genetic-stocks EC670311 and IS31861. For correlation analysis: R2 value on asterisk * and ** denoted with p < 0.05 and p < 0.01, respectively (PPTX 125 KB)

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Gao, X., Uno, K., Sarr, P.S. et al. High-sorgoleone producing sorghum genetic stocks suppress soil nitrification and N2O emissions better than low-sorgoleone producing genetic stocks. Plant Soil 477, 793–805 (2022).

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  • Biological nitrification inhibition (BNI)
  • Sorgoleone
  • Sorghum
  • Nitrification
  • N2O emission