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Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology

Where Science Meets Society

Scientists boost crop production by 47% by speeding up photorespiration

Plants such as soybeans and wheat waste between 20 and 50 percent of their energy recycling toxic chemicals created when the enzyme Rubisco—the most prevalent enzyme in the world—grabs oxygen molecules instead of carbon dioxide molecules. Increasing production of a common, naturally occurring protein in plant leaves could boost the yields of major food crops by almost 50 percent, according to a new study led by scientists at the University of Essex published today in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

Cassava breeding hasn’t improved photosynthesis or yield potential

Cassava is a staple in the diet of more than one billion people across 105 countries, yet this “orphaned crop” has received little attention compared to popular crops like corn and soybeans. While advances in breeding have helped cassava withstand pests and diseases, cassava yields no more today than it did in 1963. Corn yields, by comparison, have more than doubled.

Scientists engineer crops to conserve water, resist drought

Agriculture already monopolizes 90 percent of global freshwater—yet production still needs to dramatically increase to feed and fuel this century’s growing population. For the first time, scientists have improved how a crop uses water by 25 percent without compromising yield by altering the expression of one gene that is found in all plants, as reported in Nature Communications.

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.

Hacking evolution, screening technique may improve most widespread enzyme

Plants evolved over millions of years into an environment that has dramatically changed in the last 150 years since the Industrial Revolution began: carbon dioxide levels have increased 50 percent, and the average global temperature has increased by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit. While natural adaptation has been unable to keep up, scientists have developed tools to simulate millions of years of evolution in days to help plants adapt.

Newly characterized protein has potential to save US farmers millions annually

Instead of turning carbon into food, many plants accidentally make a plant-toxic compound during photosynthesis that is recycled through a process called photorespiration. University of Illinois and USDA/ARS researchers report in Plant Cell the discovery of a key protein in this process, which they hope to manipulate to increase plant productivity.

Scientists tweak photosynthesis to boost crop yield

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.

The proof of the plant breeding is in the (digital droplet) PCR

The first human farmers needed hundreds of years and a lot of good luck to shape the first domesticated crops. Modern plant breeders wait weeks or months, not centuries, to discover what the literal fruits of their labors might be; now, a study led at Illinois and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has explored the strengths of a molecular method that reduces this wait time to a few days.

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Illinois and Syngenta Sign Agreement for Access to RIPE IP

The University of Illinois (Illinois) and Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC, have signed an agreement to implement a commercialization strategy for intellectual property developed under the "RIPE: Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency for Sustainable Increases in Crop Yield" project, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In the context of this project, Illinois is collaborating with seven other institutions to improve photosynthetic efficiency in food crops in an effort to help resource-poor farmers increase their sustainable yields.

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