In the last 40 years the amount of synthetic nitrogen (N) applied to crops has risen drastically, resulting in significant increases in yield but with considerable impacts on the environment. A requirement for crops that require decreased N fertilizer levels has been recognized in the call for a ‘Second Green Revolution’ and research in the field of nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) has continued to grow. This has prompted a search to identify genes that improve the NUE of crop plants, with candidate NUE genes existing in pathways relating to N uptake, assimilation, amino acid biosynthesis, C/N storage and metabolism, signalling and regulation of N metabolism and translocation, remobilization and senescence. Herein is a review of the approaches taken to determine possible NUE candidate genes, an overview of experimental study of these genes as effectors of NUE in both cereal and non-cereal plants and the processes of commercialization of enhanced NUE crop plants. Patents issued regarding increased NUE in plants as well as gene pyramiding studies are also discussed as well as future directions of NUE research.