Scientists Fix A Photosynthetic Glitch In Plants, Boost Crop Growth By 40 Percent

Posted: Jan 6 2019, 2:05pm CST | by , in Latest Science News


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Scientists Fix a Photosynthetic Glitch in Plants, Boost Crop Growth by 40 Percent
Aerial view of the 2017 field trial. Credit: Beau Barber

A team engineered alternate pathways to reroute the energy-expensive process called photorespiration.

Photosynthesis is a fundamental process on earth. During photosynthesis, plants receive light from sun and convert it into energy that fuels their growth. But photosynthesis is not the only chemical reaction that occurs in plants. Many plants have evolved a side reaction called photorespiration that wastes a lot of energy produced during photosynthesis.

"We could feed up to 200 million additional people with the calories lost to photorespiration in the Midwestern U.S. each year," said researcher Donald Ort from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Reclaiming even a portion of these calories across the world would go a long way to meeting the 21st Century's rapidly expanding food demands - driven by population growth and more affluent high-calorie diets."

Photosynthesis uses Rubisco - the most prevalent protein on the planet - and sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide from the air into sugars, oxygen and energy. The protein Rubisco sometimes grabs oxygen molecules instead of carbon dioxide and produces toxic chemicals that slow or stunt plant's growth. To deal with this photosynthetic glitch, photorespiration gets into gear and recycles the toxins. However, the process sucks up a huge portion of the plants' energy along the way.

"Photorespiration is anti-photosynthesis," said lead author and a research molecular biologist Paul South. "It costs the plant precious energy and resources that it could have invested in photosynthesis to produce more growth and yield."

Photorespiration normally takes a complicated route through three compartments in the plant cell and utilizes more than 30 percent of the plant energy. To solve this problem, researchers designed three alternate pathways using different sets of promoters and genes and changed the route of the process. Over two years of field studies, researchers found that modified plants developed faster, grew taller and boost plant growth by 40 percent.

Photorespiration is known to increase with temperature, so carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere over the 20th century could severely impact photosynthesis process.

“Rubisco has even more trouble picking out carbon dioxide from oxygen as it gets hotter, causing more photorespiration," said co-author Amanda Cavanagh. "Our goal is to build better plants that can take the heat today and in the future, to help equip farmers with the technology they need to feed the world."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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