Bioengineering Photosynthesis Boosts Crop Growth by 40 Percent - Hit & Run

Christopher Davidson
January 6, 2019

They believe the method could be used to significantly boost yields from important crops including rice and wheat.

It's expected that agricultural demand will increase globally by 60-120% by the middle of this century compared to 2005. However, crop yields are now only increasing by less than 2% per year, suggesting there will be a significant shortfall in meeting this demand. The result was that the new, two-step, the way of improvement of photosynthesis has increased the productivity on average by 25%, and in some cases by 40%.

If you remember way back to fifth grade when you learned the photosynthesis cycle, plants convert sunlight into energy and use that energy to collect carbon dioxide and water and turn it into sugar. Photorespiration occurs when an enzyme named Rubisco accidentally grabs an oxygen molecule instead of the carbon dioxide that plants need for growth. "Photorespiration is anti-photosynthesis", said Paul South, a research molecular biologist and the lead author of the study.

"It's been estimated that in plants like soybeans, rice and fruit and vegetables, it can be a significant drag on yield by as much as 36%".

Scientists from the University of IL and the US Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Research Service changed how tobacco plants with the same glitch process sunlight, inserting genes from bacteria, green algae and other plants, they wrote in the journal Science. A genetic slash to render photosynthesis more systematic could be blessing for agricultural production or a few plants.

One important aspect of the problem is that it becomes more prevalent at higher temperatures and under drought conditions. This dramatically reduced the resources needed to detoxify the plant. The team now hopes to make similar changes to soybeans, potatoes, and other food crops.

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The group tried their theories in tobacco: a ideal model plant for crop research because it is easier to change and test than food crops, yet not at all like elective plant models, it develops a leaf canopy and can be tried in the field.

The experiment is significant say researchers because it involved two years of of field trials "This process is very similar among all the crops that we are looking to grow", said Dr South.

If it generates homogenous outcomes in alternative crops that could assist farmers convene the food request of a developing global population.

"The research that's necessary to prove that it has low environmental impact and is safe for consumption takes a minimum of ten years and many more dollars in research funds to make sure that this is a good and safe food product".

While it will likely take more than a decade for this technology to be translated into food crops and achieve regulatory approval, RIPE and its sponsors are committed to ensuring that smallholder farmers, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, will have royalty-free access to all of the project's breakthroughs. The project even earned the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), and the U.K. Government's Department for International Development (DFID).

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