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Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology

Where Science Meets Society

Light green plants save nitrogen without sacrificing photosynthetic efficiency

The top leaves of crops absorb far more light than they can use, starving lower leaves of light. Scientists designed plants with light green leaves with hopes of allowing more light to penetrate the crop canopy and increase overall light use efficiency and yield. This strategy was tested in a recent modeling study that found leaves with reduced chlorophyll content do not actually improve canopy-level photosynthesis, but instead, conserve a significant amount of nitrogen that the plant might be able to reinvest to improve light use efficiency and increase yield.

Modified soybeans yield more in future climate conditions

By 2050, we will need to feed 2 billion more people on less land. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide levels are predicted to hit 600 parts per million—a 50% increase over today’s levels—and 2050 temperatures are expected to frequently match the top 5% hottest days from 1950-1979. In a three-year field study, researchers proved engineered soybeans yield more than conventional soybeans in 2050’s predicted climatic conditions.

Future drought will offset benefits of higher CO2 on soybean yields

An eight-year study of soybeans grown outdoors in a carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere like that expected by 2050 has yielded a new and worrisome finding: Higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations will boost plant growth under ideal growing conditions, but drought – expected to worsen as the climate warms and rainfall patterns change – will outweigh those benefits and cause yield losses much sooner than anticipated.

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