Optimizing Carbon-Nitrogen Budgets: Perspectives for Crop Improvement

  • John A. Raven
  • Linda L. Handley
  • Mitchell Andrews
Part of the Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration book series (AIPH, volume 12)


Crops are photosynthetic organisms cultivated, or otherwise deliberately encouraged to grow, by man. The harvested products of the crops, which are used by man, include food, ranging from the photosynthetic structures themselves, directly as green vegetables and indirectly as animals which eat these structures, to organic stores and vegetative organs, seeds and fruits. Non-food uses include wood, fuel, carbon (C) sequestration, amenity and ornamentation. These uses have very different optimal outputs in terms of their C and nitrogen (N) contents, and also have variable inputs in terms of other resources (e.g. water) and criteria for sustainability (e.g. minimizing habitat degradation). In general, an optimal C and energy budget is one which involves minimal total inputs of C and N per unit of C and/or N in the harvested product; the reason that C is included among the inputs is that C fixation involves transpiratory water loss. To the extent that N in the photosynthetic apparatus enables the organisms to harvest more energy and C (and hence N), it has a catalytic role. The quantities of different N-containing components of the photosynthetic apparatus vary with genotype (via natural or artificial selection) and with acclimation of a genotype to varying environments within its lifetime, and can also be modified by genetic manipulation. The N form used by the plant, and the site of N assimilation, have a significant impact on the energetics of N assimilation, and these characteristics are amenable to agronomic and genetic manipulation. It is emphasized that negative effects on plant performance of changes in components of the N costs by the photosynthetic apparatus, which aim to maximize harvesting productivity, are sometimes not seen under optimal growth conditions. However, such negative effects can occur under suboptimal and/or varying growth conditions.


C — carbon C3 — three-carbon C4 — four-carbon CAM — Crassulacean acid metabolism Gln — glutamine N — nitrogen Rubisco — ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • John A. Raven
    • 1
  • Linda L. Handley
    • 2
  • Mitchell Andrews
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Environmental and Applied Biology, School of Life SciencesUniversity of DundeeDundeeUK
  2. 2.Scottish Crop Research Institute InvergowrieDundeeUK
  3. 3.Ecology CentreUniversity of SunderlandSunderlandUK

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