Researchers Find a Way to Expedite Photosynthesis

By manipulating the genes that affect photosynthesis, the researchers increased yields in soybeans by 20 percent. The process could be repeated in other crops.
Aug. 23, 2022
Daniel Dawson

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Researchers from uni­ver­si­ties in the United States and the United Kingdom have devel­oped a way to make pho­to­syn­the­sis more effi­cient in soy­beans.

After more than a decade of work, sci­en­tists from the University of Ilinois and the University of Lancaster tack­led what they had pre­vi­ously iden­ti­fied as one of the least effi­cient aspects of pho­to­syn­the­sis.

Our research shows an effec­tive way to con­tribute to food secu­rity… Improving pho­to­syn­the­sis is a major oppor­tu­nity to gain the needed jump in yield poten­tial.- Amanda De Souza, post­doc­toral researcher, University of Illinois

Typically, plants absorb the energy from sun­light and turn it into car­bon diox­ide. They also use water and min­er­als absorbed from the soil to cre­ate sug­ars that cre­ate growth.

However, in very bright sun­light, plants release excess energy as heat to pro­tect their cells from being dam­aged. This process of shift­ing from the so-called fully pro­duc­tive growth mode” to the pro­tec­tive mode” takes sev­eral min­utes, result­ing in a nat­ural loss of effi­ciency.

See Also:Studying Plant Reactions to Environmental Stressors Key to Sustainable Agriculture

By tweak­ing the genes respon­si­ble for this pro­tec­tive func­tion of the plant, the researchers were able to expe­dite the process, which resulted in a 20 per­cent increase in yield for the soy­bean plants.

This jump in the yield is huge by com­par­i­son to the improve­ments we get through plant breed­ing,” Stephen Long, an agri­cul­tural sci­en­tist who works at both uni­ver­si­ties, told the BBC. And the process we’ve tack­led is uni­ver­sal, so the fact we have it work­ing in a food crop gives us a lot of con­fi­dence that this should work in wheat, maize and rice.”

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The effi­ciency of pho­to­syn­the­sis in olive trees could also be improved using a sim­i­lar method, though sta­ple crops are the main focus of the research.

Long added that the crops could be grow­ing in fields within 10 years, but laws regard­ing the cul­ti­va­tion of genet­i­cally-mod­i­fied crops would likely impact how quickly and where these crops could be intro­duced.

The results of this exper­i­ment have come at an incred­i­bly timely moment as con­cern mounts about global food short­ages cre­ated by drought, con­flict and sup­ply chain issues.

A recent report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that nearly 10 per­cent of the global pop­u­la­tion was hun­gry in 2021. The report added that the sit­u­a­tion has been get­ting worse in recent years.

According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef), more than 660 mil­lion peo­ple will face mal­nu­tri­tion and food inse­cu­rity by 2030.

The sci­en­tists behind this research hope it will help the world’s poor­est farm­ers have more pro­duc­tive har­vests and bol­ster food pro­duc­tion in the areas where it is most needed.

The num­ber of peo­ple affected by food insuf­fi­ciency con­tin­ues to grow, and pro­jec­tions clearly show that there needs to be a change at the food sup­ply level to change the tra­jec­tory,” said Amanda De Souza, the study’s lead author.

Our research shows an effec­tive way to con­tribute to food secu­rity for the peo­ple who need it most while avoid­ing more land being put into pro­duc­tion,” she con­cluded. Improving pho­to­syn­the­sis is a major oppor­tu­nity to gain the needed jump in yield poten­tial.”



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