The effect of nitrogen status on the regulation of plant-mediated proteolysis in ingested forage: an assessment using non-nodulating white clover

Andrea L. Bollard, Alison H. Kingston-Smith, Frank R. Minchin

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23 Citations (SciVal)


Production of nitrogenous waste by livestock agriculture is a significant environmental concern in terms of pollution of land and water. In the rumens of cattle and sheep, the excessive proteolysis which contributes to inefficiency of nutrient use involves both the rumen microbial population and the intrinsic plant proteases that can mediate protein degradation in ingested fresh forage on exposure to the environmental stresses of the rumen. Here, white clover (Trifolium repens) plants that do not form root nodules, and so are dependent on nitrate supplied to the roots, have been used to determine how nitrogen status of the plant affects the rate of plant-mediated proteolysis in forage under conditions that simulate ingestion by grazing ruminants. Plants were grown from seed and supplied with nutrient solution containing 2.5, 5.0, 7.5 or 10 mM nitrate. Protein, free amino acid and protease activity were determined in leaves which had been placed in an in vitro system designed to simulate conditions experienced in the rumen (anaerobic phosphate buffer maintained at 39°C in the dark). Foliar protein content increased with increasing nitrate supply, while in vitro incubation of leaves resulted in time-dependent decreases in protein concentration and increases in amino acid concentration. Regardless of nitrate supply, 50% of the protein was degraded in 6 h and 80% after 24 h. As the extent of protein decrease was determined by initial protein content, more protein degradation occurred in those plants grown with the highest nitrate supply: after 6 h, 130.7 mg g−1 dry matter (DM) was degraded in leaves grown at 10 mM nitrate but only 52.3 mg g−1 DM in leaves grown at 2.5 mM nitrate. Hence, although the percentage of proteolysis is independent of foliar protein concentration, the latter is critical to the quantity of protein degraded. Heat-stable serine and cysteine proteases were active throughout the term of the in vitro incubation. Although proteolysis in ingested forage can continue for many hours, mediated by heat-stable proteases, maximum amino acid accumulation accounted for less than 40% of initial protein. Therefore, it is proposed that continued and extensive proteolysis occurs following leaf excision and exposure to rumen conditions because amino acid accumulation is insufficient to initiate those feedback systems which sense cytoplasmic amino acid concentration and prevent excessive proteolysis during normal source–sink relations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-42
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of Applied Biology
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2006


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