Scientists tweak photosynthesis to boost crop yield – UMUSEKE – News indeed
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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.

Lab Photosynthesis plants
Lab Photosynthesis 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.

Many years of computational analysis and laboratory and field experiments led to the selection of the proteins targeted in the study. The researchers used tobacco because it is easily modified. Now they are focusing on food crops.

“We don’t know for certain this approach will work in other crops, but because we’re targeting a universal process that is the same in all crops, we’re pretty sure it will,” said University of Illinois plant biology and crop sciences professor Stephen Long, who led the study with postdoctoral researchers Katarzyna Glowacka and Johannes Kromdijk.

The team targeted a process plants use to shield themselves from excessive solar energy.

“Crop leaves exposed to full sunlight absorb more light than they can use,” Long said. “If they can’t get rid of this extra energy, it will actually bleach the leaf.”

Plants protect themselves by making changes within the leaf that dissipate the excess energy as heat, he said. This process is called nonphotochemical quenching.

“But when a cloud crosses the sun, or a leaf goes into the shade of another, it can take up to half an hour for that NPQ process to relax,” Long said. “In the shade, the lack of light limits photosynthesis, and NPQ is also wasting light as heat.”

Long and former graduate student Xinguang Zhu used a supercomputer at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the U. of I. to predict how much the slow recovery from NPQ reduces crop productivity over the course of a day. These calculations revealed “surprisingly high losses” of 7.5 percent to 30 percent, depending on the plant type and prevailing temperature, Long said.

technology.org

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