A balancing act: How plants integrate nitrogen and water signals

Viviana Araus, Joseph Swift, Jose M. Alvarez, Amelia Henry, Gloria M. Coruzzi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Nitrogen (N) and water (W) are crucial inputs for plant survival as well as costly resources for agriculture. Given their importance, the molecular mechanisms that plants rely on to signal changes in either N or W status have been under intense scrutiny. However, how plants sense and respond to the combination of N and W signals at the molecular level has received scant attention. The purpose of this review is to shed light on what is currently known about how plant responses to N are impacted by W status. We review classic studies which detail how N and W combinations have both synergistic and antagonistic effects on key plant traits, such as root architecture and stomatal aperture. Recent molecular studies of N and W interactions show that mutations in genes involved in N metabolism affect drought responses, and vice versa. Specifically, perturbing key N signaling genes may lead to changes in drought-responsive gene expression programs, which is supported by a meta-analysis we conduct on available transcriptomic data. Additionally, we cite studies that show how combinatorial transcriptional responses to N and W status might drive crop phenotypes. Through these insights, we suggest research strategies that could help to develop crops adapted to marginal soils depleted in both N and W, an important task in the face of climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4442-4451
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Botany
Issue number15
StatePublished - Jul 25 2020


  • Agronomy
  • Climate change
  • Drought
  • Nitrogen
  • Signaling
  • Systems biology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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