Ecological nitrogen limitation shapes the DNA composition of plant genomes

Claudia Acquisti, James J. Elser, Sudhir Kumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Phenotypes and behaviors respond to resource constraints via adaptation, but the influence of ecological limitations on the composition of eukaryotic genomes is still unclear. We trace connections between plant ecology and genomes through their elemental composition. Inorganic sources of nitrogen (N) are severely limiting to plants in natural ecosystems. This constraint would favor the use of N-poor nucleotides in plant genomes. We show that the transcribed segments of undomesticated plant genomes are the most N poor, with genomes and proteomes bearing signatures of N limitation. Consistent with the predictions of natural selection for N conservation, the precursors of transcriptome show the greatest deviations from Chargaff's second parity rule. Furthermore, crops show higher N contents than undomesticated plants, likely due to the relaxation of natural selection owing to the use of N-rich fertilizers. These findings indicate a fundamental role of N limitation in the evolution of plant genomes, and they link the genomes with the ecosystem context within which biota evolve.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)953-956
Number of pages4
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2009


  • Biological stoichiometry
  • Crops
  • Nitrogen limitation
  • Plant genome


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