Scientists boost crop production by 47 percent by speeding up photorespiration
Plants such as soybeans and wheat waste between 20 and 50 percent of their energy recycling toxic chemicals created when the enzyme Rubisco—the most prevalent enzyme in the world—grabs oxygen molecules instead of carbon dioxide molecules. Increasing production of a common, naturally occurring protein in plant leaves could boost the yields of major food crops by almost 50 percent, according to a new study led by scientists at the University of Essex published today in Plant Biotechnology Journal.
This work is part of the international research project Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) that is supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and U.K. Department for International Development.
In this study, the team engineered a model crop to overexpress a native protein that is involved in the recycling process called photorespiration. Over two years of field trials, they found that increasing the H-protein in the plants’ leaves increases production 27 to 47 percent. However, increasing this protein throughout the plant stunts growth and metabolism, resulting in four-week-old plants that are half the size of their unaltered counterparts.
“Plant scientists have traditionally used promoters that express proteins at high levels throughout the plant, and there are many examples where this has worked really well,” said the lead author Patricia Lopez-Calcagno, a senior research officer at Essex. “But for the H-protein, we showed that more is not always better demonstrating that when we translate this method to other crop plants, we will need to tune the changes in protein to the right levels in the right tissues.”
Previous studies increased H-protein levels in Arabidopsis, a small model plant used in laboratory experiments. This is the first time that the H-protein has been evaluated in a crop in real-world growing conditions. The team used tobacco, widely considered the lab rat of plant biology because it is easy to genetically engineer and can be quickly grown and tested in outdoor field trials. Once a modification has been proven to be effective in tobacco, the same approach can be applied to food crops that are needed to feed our growing population.
“The reality is that as growing season temperatures continue to increase, the yield hit caused by photorespiration will also increase,” said co-author Paul South, a USDA-ARS postdoctoral researcher in theCarl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois. “If we can translate this discovery to food crops, we can equip farmers with resilient plants capable of producing more food despite increasing temperature stress.”
Next, the team plans to increase the levels of this naturally occurring protein in soybeans, cowpeas (black-eyed peas), and cassava, a tropical root crop that is a staple for more than a billion people around the world. Their goal is to increase the yields and opportunities for farmers worldwide, particularly smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
To further increase yields, the team plans to combine this trait with others developed by the RIPE project, including a method reported in Science that boosted production by 20 percent by helping plants adapt to fluctuating light levels more quickly.
“Improvements obtained with the individual trait described here, brings us one step closer to meeting the imminent food demands of 2050—Additionally, by combining this trait with other successful traits in RIPE, we can make the yield gains needed to feed this century’s growing population,” said Principal Investigator Christine Raines, a professor of plant molecular physiology at Essex. “We are committed to developing these sustainable technologies as quickly as possible and ensuring that the farmers and communities who need them most have global access.”
European Scientist: Scientists increase crop production by 47%
Modern Farmer: Scientists may found a way to increase crop yield by a bonkers 20%
Smithsonian Magazine: New technique could supercharge crop production
Popular Science: Scientists tweak plant genes to enhance photosynthesis and increase crop yields
Peoria Public Radio (WCBU 89.9): Genetically Modifying Photosynthesis Can Increase Crop Yields
Arizona Daily Sun: Scientists modify plants, making them use sunlight better
Vice: This Scientific Breakthrough Could Completely Change the Way the World Grows Food
Christian Science Monitor: Feeding the world? Did scientists just figure out how to grow more food?
Social News.XYZ: More efficient use of sunlight can improve crop yields
BBC: Genetic breakthrough: crops use more sunlight to grow
Science: Engineered crops could have made it in the shade
Futurism: Engineering nature: how improved photosynthesis could feed the world
Detroit News: Modified plants offer food for thought
New York Times: With an eye on hunger, scientists see promises in genetic tinkering of plants
Gazette Standard: Essex University scientists on the way to feeding the world
Science: How turning off a plant's sunshield can grow bigger crops
TheScientist: Genetic Modification Improves Photosynthetic Efficiency
The Guardian: Plants modified to boost photosynthesis produce greater yields, study shows
San Francisco Chronicle: Scientists modify plants, making them use sunlight better
Los Angeles Times: Scientists aim to feed the world by boosting photosynthesis
International Business Times: Genetically Modified Crops: Gene Tweaking Boosts Photosynthesis Efficiency To Increase Crop Yield
Tech Times: Scientists modify photosynthesis to produce more crops
MIT Technology Review: Super-Fast-Growing GM Plants Could Yield the Next Green Revolution
Voice of America Learning English: Supercharged Plants May Mean More Crop Production
Talking Biotech Podcast: 059 Engineering Efficiency in Photosynthesis
El Páis: Arreglar las pifias de la proteína más abundante del mundo aumenta un 50% las cosechas
F1000Prime: Improving photosynthesis and crop productivity by accelerating recovery from photoprotection
WILL: Study: enhanced photosynthesis increases yield up to 20 percent
Science & Scholarship in Poland: 15 percent higher yields through improved photosynthesis in the shade
WCIA: UI researchers make crop yield breakthrough
KPCC: How to increase food production? Improve photosynthesis
Cell Systems:Tinkering with photosynthesis
DI: University scientists become the first to genetically modify photosynthesis
Nature: Photosynthesis gets boosts
The Hindu: Tweaking photosynthesis to increase crop yield
Stackyard: Scientists Boost Crop Production by 47 Per Cent
DI: Top 10 moments of the semester
ScienceDaily: Scientists boost crop production by 47 percent by speeding up photorespiration
Nature: Plant science: Crops on the fast track for light
Next Big Future: Crop production increased by 47 percent by speeding up photorespiration