In collaboration with researchers at Nanjing Agricultural University, Dr Tony Miller from the John Innes Centre has developed rice crops with an improved ability to manage their own pH levels, enabling them to take up significantly more nitrogen, iron and phosphorous from soil and increase yield by up to 54 percent.
Rice is a major crop, feeding almost 50 percent of the world’s population and has retained the ability to survive in changing environmental conditions. The crop is able to thrive in flooded paddy fields – where the soggy, anaerobic conditions favour the availability of ammonium – as well as in much drier, drained soil, where increased oxygen means more nitrate is available. Nitrogen fertilizer is a major cost in growing many cereal crops and its overuse has a negative environmental impact.
The nitrogen that all plants need to grow is typically available in the form of nitrate or ammonium ions in the soil, which are taken up by the plant roots. For the plant, getting the right balance of nitrate and ammonium is very important: too much ammonium and plant cells become alkaline; too much nitrate and they become acidic. Either way, upsetting the pH balance means the plant’s enzymes do not work as well, affecting plant health and crop yield.
NAU is one of China’s oldest universities of agricultural sciences under the administration of the Ministry of Education. The roots of the university can be traced back to the Faculty of Agriculture and Natural History of Sanjiang Normal School in 1902. Sanjiang Normal School later became Nanjing Higher Normal School, National Southeastern University, National Central University and Nanjing University, and reestablished agricultural faculty in 1917. The agricultural faculty became an agricultural college in 1927, and founded the first departments of Agronomy and Horticulture in Chinese universities.
Another main source of NAU is the agricultural faculty of University of Nanking established in 1914 and became agricultural college in 1930, and it established the first faculty of Forestry and department of Agronomics, and was the forerunner of four-year bachelor program in higher agricultural education in China. The two agricultural colleges were merged to form NAU in 1952.
Undergraduate students participate in SRT (Scientific Research Training) program to upgrade their research skills. The Graduate School was established in 2000, which makes NAU one of the 56 universities with graduate schools among more than 1000 universities and colleges in China.
Cooperation since the 1980s with Cornell University, USA, in the field of crop production incubated the State Key Laboratory of Plant Genetics and Germplasm Enhancement at the university and the National Center of Soybean Improvement. The university maintains close relationships with 30 universities in 10 countries.