SusCrop- ERA-NET

Cofund on Sustainable
Crop Production



Tomato and eggplant nitrogen utilization efficiency in Mediterranean environments


Source: Francesco Sunseri


Nitrogen (N) is a limiting factor for plant growth and crop yield. For this reason, N fertilization has increased in excess compared to crop requirement, causing massive environment damages. Therefore, to minimize N input, an efficient fertilizer management together with the identification of high N-use efficient (NUE) genotypes could be the main challenge to sustain high crop yields reducing environmental costs.

Field-potted eggplant experiment growth at low N concentration (IPV Valencia, Spain – copyright J. Prohens)

Field-potted eggplant experiment growth at low N concentration (IPV Valencia, Spain – copyright J. Prohens)

NUE defined as “grain production per unit of N available in the soil” is a complex trait, regulated by multiple interacting genetic and environmental factors, which includes two main components. N-Uptake Efficiency (NUpE) and N-Utilization Efficiency (NUtE) describe the ability of plants to take up N from the soil and to assimilate and use N to produce grain, respectively.

SOLNUE aim is to provide knowledge and strategies for sustainable cropping systems by the reduction of N fertilizer, using tomato and eggplant as target species. The development of high NUE genotypes is considered more challenging than the improvement of N fertilization management.

Field eggplant experiment growth at different N concentrations (CREA GB Montanaso Lombardo (LO), Italy – copyright G.L. Rotino)

Field eggplant experiment growth at different N concentrations (CREA GB Montanaso Lombardo (LO), Italy – copyright G.L. Rotino)

During the first 15 months, several key findings were reached by SOLNUE project as followed detailed:

  • NUE-contrasting tomato and eggplant genotypes were identified. In detail, starting from germplasm collections, P1 and P3 (UNIRC, CREA) identified two couples of contrasting breeding lines for both species (The eggplant results were already published, for tomato a manuscript is in preparation). P2 (UPV) evaluated the performances of 44 long shelf life breeding lines under low N in the fields (manuscript in preparation). Finally, the parents of a MAGIC tomato population and a core collection of 150 cherry tomato are now under evaluation for NUE in greenhouse (P4, INRA).
  •  NUE-contrasting eggplants, previously identified, were evaluated for crop yield and NUE in the field under three different N-rates (P3, CREA).
  • Segregant populations (RIL) of both species were set up for detecting QTLs involved in NUE. One hundred fifty-six (156) eggplant lines derived from a cross between NUE contrasting lines were obtained (P3, CREA), partially phenotyped (P1, UNIRC) for the main traits useful to determine NUE behavior and genotyped by GBS (P1 and P3).
  • Advanced backcrossed eggplant lines were evaluated for NUE to detect genomic regions of introgression from wild species involved in improving NUE. In detail, P2 (UPV) evaluated 56 plants set of backcross population, under low N in field, with the aim to introgress gene of interest (QTL) for NUE from different wild species. Further, the evaluation of parental lines of three sets of introgression revealed a higher NUpE and NUE in the wild relative S. insanum under both high and low N conditions.
  • RNA-seq analyses were carried out in both eggplant and tomato for identifying DEGs related to different NUE behavior. In detail, two experiments were carried out on NUE contrasting genotypes from both species. The first on eggplant (P1 and P3) highlighted some interesting results about NUE-related DEGs (submitted on J Exp Botany). The analysis of DEGs in tomato (P1) is currently under evaluation.
  • Four NUE contrasting tomatoes, previously identified, were evaluated (P1, UNIRC) in controlled condition to assess specific morphological and physiological traits related to NUE under different N-forms (ammonium and urea), alone or in combination.

Source: Francesco Sunseri


Prof Francesco Sunseri
Università Mediterranea di Reggio Calabria, AGRARIA, ITALY



Prof Jaime Prohens
Universitat Politècnica de València, Instituto de Conservación y Mejora de la Agrodiversidad Valenciana, SPAIN

Dr Giuseppe L. Rotino
Council for Agricultural Research and Economics, Research Centre for Genomics and Bioinformatics, ITALY

Mrs Frederique Bitton

Key publications

Mauceri, A., Aci, M. M., Toppino, L., Panda, S., Meir, S., Mercati, F., Araniti, F., Lupini, A., Panuccio, M. R., Rotino, G. L., Aharoni, A., Abenavoli, M. R., and Sunseri, F. (2022). Uncovering Pathways Highly Correlated to NUE through a Combined Metabolomics and Transcriptomics Approach in Eggplant. Plants (Basel, Switzerland), 11 (5), 700.

Rosa-Martínez, E., Villanueva, G., Şahin, a., Gramazio, P., Dolores García-Martínez, M., Dolores Raigón, M., Vilanova, S., Prohens, J., and Plazas, M. (2022). Characterization and QTL identification in eggplant introgression lines under two N fertilization levels. Horticultural Plant Journal, -. doi: 10.1016/j.hpj.2022.08.003

Mauceri, A., Abenavoli, M. R., Toppino, L., Panda, S., Mercati, F., Aci, M. M., Aharoni, A., Sunseri, F., Rotino, G. L., and Lupini, A. (2021). Transcriptomics reveal new insights into molecular regulation of nitrogen use efficiency in Solanum melongena. Journal of experimental botany, 72(12), 4237–4253.

Rosa-Martínez, E., Adalid, A. M., Alvarado, L. E., Burguet, R., García-Martínez, M. D., Pereira-Dias, L., Casanova, C., Soler, E., Figàs, M. R., Plazas, M., Prohens, J., and Soler, S. (2021). Variation for Composition and Quality in a Collection of the Resilient Mediterranean 'de penjar' Long Shelf-Life Tomato Under High and Low N Fertilization Levels. Frontiers in plant science, 12, 633957.

Villanueva, G., Rosa-Martínez, E., Şahin, A., García-Fortea, E., Plazas, M., Prohens, J., and Vilanova, S. (2021). Evaluation of Advanced Backcrosses of Eggplant with Solanum elaeagnifolium Introgressions under Low N Conditions. Agronomy, 11 (9), 1770.

Toppino, L., Barchi, L., Mercati, F., Acciarri, N., Perrone, D., Martina, M., Gattolin, S., Sala, T., Fadda, S., Mauceri, A., Ciriaci, T., Carimi, F., Portis, E., Sunseri, F., Lanteri, S., and Rotino, G. L. (2020). A New Intra-Specific and High-Resolution Genetic Map of Eggplant Based on a RIL Population, and Location of QTLs Related to Plant Anthocyanin Pigmentation and Seed Vigour. Genes, 11 (7), 745.