Phosphate acquisition and metabolism in plants

Curr Biol. 2022 Jun 20;32(12):R623-R629. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.03.073.


Plants need at least 13 different nutrients to maintain optimal growth. Nitrogen and phosphorus, from the Greek 'phôs' (meaning 'light') and 'phoros' (meaning 'bearer'), are the main nutrients limiting plant growth in both agricultural and natural ecosystems. Agriculture has relied heavily since the mid 1950s on the use of synthetic ammonium- and phosphorus-based fertilizers to increase crop productivity. While industrial synthesis of ammonium relies on the chemical conversion of atmospheric nitrogen, phosphorus is mined from finite reserves concentrated in a few countries. Considering our current dependence on phosphorus fertilizers for food production and the geopolitical aspects associated with current resources, it will be important to develop technologies enabling the maintenance of high crop yield with reduced fertilizer input. This will require an in-depth knowledge on the various pathways that enable plants to acquire phosphorus from the soil and maximize its economical use for growth and reproduction. In this primer, we give an overview of the factors limiting phosphorus acquisition by plants and highlight various pathways and strategies plants have evolved at the level of development, metabolism and signal transduction to adapt to phosphorus deficiency.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Ammonium Compounds* / metabolism
  • Ecosystem
  • Fertilizers* / analysis
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Phosphates / metabolism
  • Phosphorus / metabolism
  • Plants / metabolism
  • Soil


  • Ammonium Compounds
  • Fertilizers
  • Phosphates
  • Soil
  • Phosphorus
  • Nitrogen