As farmers survey their fields this summer, several questions come to mind: How many plants germinated per acre? How does altering row spacing affect my yields? Does it make a difference if I plant my rows north to south or east to west? Now a computer model can answer these questions by comparing billions of virtual fields with different planting densities, row spacings, and orientations.
Researchers report in the journal Science that they can increase plant productivity by boosting levels of three proteins involved in photosynthesis. In field trials, the scientists saw increases of 14 percent to 20 percent in the growth of their modified tobacco plants. The work confirms that photosynthesis can be made more efficient to increase plant yield, a hypothesis some in the scientific community once doubted was possible.
Arundo donax, a giant reed that grows in the Mediterranean climate zones of the world, isn’t like other prolific warm-weather grasses, researchers report. This grass, which can grow annually to 6 meters (nearly 20 feet) in height, uses a type of photosynthesis that is more common to crop plants like soybeans, rice and peanuts.
The new findings are published in Scientific Reports, a Nature publishing group journal.
How can we meet the accelerating food needs of the world’s population, without increasing the amount of land used for farming? By making plants better neighbors, and borrowing molecular tricks from other species to make their use of light and carbon more efficient, researchers hope to improve the photosynthetic efficiency of crops and give a much-needed boost to food production.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has received a five–year, $25-million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve the photosynthetic properties of key food crops, including rice and cassava. The project, titled “RIPE – Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency,” has the potential to benefit farmers around the world by increasing productivity of staple food crops.