The ability to sustainably feed a growing worldwide population may be partly dependent on understanding two types of plants that photosynthesize more efficiently than most.
The University of Illinois hosted the 2013 International Symposium on C4 and CAM Plant Biology from August 6–9, 2013, where about 175 plant scientists from 17 countries discussed how to improve crop performance through photosynthesis in C4 and CAM plants.
Photosynthesis in most plants, called C3 plants, is inefficient. Inside the leaf, carbon dioxide defuses slowly before it is captured by the photosynthetic process and turned into sugars.
C4 and CAM plants, such as corn and cacti, have modified anatomical and biochemical pathways. They are able to photosynthesize more efficiently and thrive in dry environments.
“You can sort of think of these plants as undergoing fuel-injected photosynthesis,” said Andrew Leakey, an Assistant Professor of Plant Biology at Illinois and member of the Genomic Ecology of Global Change research theme at the Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB). “They are able to photosynthesize the same amount using less water or use the same amount of water to photosynthesize more.”
Understanding the mechanisms that make these plants more efficient can help plant scientists engineer staple C3 crops to be more sustainable or productive.
“This symposium is a really great example of bringing together groups of people from different disciplines to work on a common problem facing society,” Leakey said. “The participants include leaders in the genomics, evolution, ecology and ecophysiology of C4 and CAM plants.”
Throughout the four-day conference, speakers discussed how C4 and CAM plants have evolved many times in diverse ways, the studies working to piece together the “genetic tool kit” that C4 and CAM plants need to photosynthesize, and current efforts to employ these tools in C3 plants.
The meeting also included several field trips. Participants toured the SoyFACE experimental facility at Illinois where researchers study crop responses to climate change. They also visited the Energy Biosciences Institute Energy Farm at Illinois that analyzes biofuel crops’ performance and ecological impact.
Illinois, a leader in photosynthesis research, sponsored the symposium in part. Other sponsors included the National Science Foundation, US Department of Energy, Journal of Experimental Botany, LI-COR, Plant, Cell & Environment journal, and IGB, an interdisciplinary and collaborative research institute.
This article originally appeared on the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology website.