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    Efficient use of nitrogen inputs for concurrent improvements in grain yield and nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) has been recognized as a viable strategy for sustainable agriculture development. Yet, there is little research on the possible physiological basis of maize hybrid heterosis for NUE and measurable traits that are corresponding to the NUE heterosis. A field study was conducted for two years to evaluate the heterosis for NUE and determine the relationship between NUE and its physiological components. Two commercial hybrids, 'Xianyu335' and 'Zhengdan958', and their parental inbred lines, were grown at 0 (0 N) and 150 kg N ha-1 (150 N), in a randomized complete block design with four replications each year. Compared to their parental lines, both hybrids displayed a significant heterosis, up to 466%, for NUE. N internal efficiency (NIE) accounted for 52% of the variation in heterosis for NUE, while there was generally negligible heterosis for nitrogen recovery efficiency (NRE). Heterosis for NIE and thereby for NUE in maize was ascribed to (i) an earlier establishment of pre-anthesis source for N accumulation, which phenotypically exhibited as a faster leaf appearance rate with higher maximum LAI and photosynthetic nitrogen use efficiency; (ii) a larger amount of N being remobilized from the vegetative tissues, especially from leaves, during the grain filling. Phenotypically, there was notably a rapid reduction in post-anthesis specific weights of leaf and stalk, but with maintained functionally stay-green ear leaves; and (iii) a higher productive efficiency per unit grain N, which was characterized by a reduced grain N concentration and enhanced sink strength.


    Zhigang Wang, Bao-Luo Ma, Xiaofang Yu, Julin Gao, Jiying Sun, Zhijun Su, Shaobo Yu. Physiological Basis of Heterosis for Nitrogen Use Efficiency of Maize. Scientific reports. 2019 Dec 10;9(1):18708

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    PMID: 31822689

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