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Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology

Where Science Meets Society

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.

Team calls for integrated Midwest field research network

From a global trade and agriculture perspective, the world heavily depends on the Midwest. The United States is the biggest exporter in the world of primary foodstuffs, such as corn and soybean, with most of that predominantly produced by Midwest farmers.

Despite record-high yields of corn and soybean across the United States in 2014, climate scientists warn that rising temperatures and future extreme weather may soon put crop yields like this in danger.

Grant helps realize “ultra-productive” biofuel crops, attract investors

Imagine—instead of acres of oil wells on barren land—endless fields of towering green sugarcane, with each stalk producing renewable and sustainable biofuel.

The University of Illinois and the University of Florida have been awarded a third round of funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to realize ultra-productive biofuel crops.

Biodiesel from sugarcane more economical than soybean

America's oil consumption far exceeds that of every other country in the world. What's more, it's unsustainable. Therefore, in 2007, Congress mandated a move away from petroleum-based oils toward more renewable sources. Soybeans, an important dietary protein and the current primary source of plant-based oils used for biodiesel production, only yield about one barrel per acre. At this rate, the soybean crop could never quench the nation's thirst for oil.

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.


Seven Illinois researchers rank among the world’s most influential

Seven Illinois researchers rank among the world’s most influential

Seven University of Illinois researchers have been named to the Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers list for 2015.

The list includes “some of the world’s most influential scientific minds,” according to a statement from Thomson Reuters. “About 3,000 researchers earned this distinction … ranking among the top 1 percent most cited for their subject field and year of publication, earning them the mark of exceptional impact.”

Illinois awarded $5M to increase water use efficiency in bioenergy sorghum

The University of Illinois has been awarded a 3-year, $5 million grant from the DOE Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy as part of its OPEN 2015 funding initiative (ARPA-E OPEN). Under Principal Investigator Andrew Leakey, Associate Professor of Plant Biology, the interdisciplinary and multi-institutional team intends to increase the water use efficiency (WUE) of sorghum, a valuable bioenergy crop.

Stephen Long to Speak at Paris Climate Convention

Agricultural innovation is needed now — not later — to avoid food shortages in a world with an ever-changing climate and a growing population.

That’s the message University of Illinois Professor of Crop Science and Plant Biology Stephen P. Long hopes to impress upon an audience of lawmakers, thought leaders, political staff members, and concerned citizens at a Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, public session of the Paris Climate Change Conference.


Ground-level ozone reduces maize and soybean yields

Despite government regulations, ground-level ozone – an odorless gas that forms as polluting nitrogen oxides drift in sunlight across the countryside – continues to threaten crop quality and yield. In a new study, researchers quantify this loss from historical yield data for the first time. They show that over the last 30 years, ozone emissions have reduced soybean and corn yields by 5 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

The findings are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It’s time to stop thinking in terms of food versus fuel

Whether you have taken a side or a backseat in the discussion, the “food versus fuel” debate affects us all. Some say growing more biofuel crops today will decrease greenhouse gas emissions, but will make it harder to produce food tomorrow, which has prevented the U.S. from maximizing the potential of environmentally beneficial biofuels.

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