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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Illinois plant biology professor Stephen P. Long and his collaborators have engineered sugarcane so that it accumulates oil in its stems that can be made into biodiesel. They now have an “oilcane” that accumulates 2 percent oil by weight, and their research suggests they can eventually raise this to 20 percent. Their work will be exhibited at the 2015 Energy Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C. Long spoke to News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about the implications for food and biofuels.
Transnational rice study on photosynthesis could improve international food security
University of Illinois researchers established the university's first rice paddy to test rice performance in Illinois and at Kyoto University in Japan. The two plots, which were planted on the same date, should reveal clues about what factors help the plants more efficiently convert the sun’s energy into food, known as photosynthetic performance.