Isolation and functional characterization of a high affinity urea transporter from roots of Zea mays

Zanin, Laura; Tomasi, Nicola; Wirdnam, Corina; Meier, Stefan; Komarova, Nataliya; Mimmo, Tanja; Cesco, Stefano; Rentsch, Doris; Pinton, Roberto (2014). Isolation and functional characterization of a high affinity urea transporter from roots of Zea mays. BMC Plant Biology, 14(1) BioMed Central 10.1186/s12870-014-0222-6

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Background: Despite its extensive use as a nitrogen fertilizer, the role of urea as a directly accessible nitrogen source for crop plants is still poorly understood. So far, the physiological and molecular aspects of urea acquisition have been investigated only in few plant species highlighting the importance of a high-affinity transport system. With respect to maize, a worldwide-cultivated crop requiring high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer, the mechanisms involved in the transport of urea have not yet been identified. The aim of the present work was to characterize the high-affinity urea transport system in maize roots and to identify the high affinity urea transporter. Results: Kinetic characterization of urea uptake (<300 mu M) demonstrated the presence in maize roots of a high-affinity and saturable transport system; this system is inducible by urea itself showing higher Vmax and Km upon induction. At molecular level, the ORF sequence coding for the urea transporter, ZmDUR3, was isolated and functionally characterized using different heterologous systems: a dur3 yeast mutant strain, tobacco protoplasts and a dur3 Arabidopsis mutant. The expression of the isolated sequence, ZmDUR3-ORF, in dur3 yeast mutant demonstrated the ability of the encoded protein to mediate urea uptake into cells. The subcellular targeting of DUR3/GFP fusion proteins in tobacco protoplasts gave results comparable to the localization of the orthologous transporters of Arabidopsis and rice, suggesting a partial localization at the plasma membrane. Moreover, the overexpression of ZmDUR3 in the atdur3-3 Arabidopsis mutant showed to complement the phenotype, since different ZmDUR3-overexpressing lines showed either comparable or enhanced 15N]-urea influx than wild-type plants. These data provide a clear evidence in planta for a role of ZmDUR3 in urea acquisition from an extra-radical solution. Conclusions: This work highlights the capability of maize plants to take up urea via an inducible and high-affinity transport system. ZmDUR3 is a high-affinity urea transporter mediating the uptake of this molecule into roots. Data may provide a key to better understand the mechanisms involved in urea acquisition and contribute to deepen the knowledge on the overall nitrogen-use efficiency in crop plants.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Molecular Plant Physiology

UniBE Contributor:

Wirdnam, Corina-Daniela, Meier, Stefan, Komarova, Nataliya, Rentsch, Doris


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)




BioMed Central




Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

27 Oct 2014 17:02

Last Modified:

02 Mar 2023 23:25

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Corn, High affinity transport system, DUR3, Maize, Nitrogen (N), Root, Urea




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