Published: Sun, January 06, 2019
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Contemporary Way Genetically Modifying Photosynthesis Augments Plant Evolution

Contemporary Way Genetically Modifying Photosynthesis Augments Plant Evolution

Green plants containing the protein rubisco use sunlight to convert water and atmospheric carbon dioxide into life-sustaining organic compounds, such as glucose.

Now, researchers from the University of IL and U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service have figured out a way to engineer plants with a built-in photorespiratory shortcut that makes them 40% more productive in real-world conditions. However, around 25 percent of the time RuBisCO incorrectly collects oxygen molecules instead, creating a plant-toxic byproduct that disrupts the entire photosynthesis process.

Principal investigator Donald Ort (GEGC leader/BSD/CABBI) said, "We could feed up to 200 million additional people with the calories lost to photorespiration in the Midwestern U.S. each year". Nevertheless, the vast majority of plants on Earth are affected by a glitch which forced them to evolve a process called photorespiration. The first step of this process - fixation of CO2 from the atmosphere, and conducts his ribulosebisphosphate enzyme (Rubisco), which catalyzes the interaction of carbon dioxide with the five-carbon sugar molecule, to form two three-carbon molecules, which are involved in the further metabolism.

"That's our goal, to make a crop that has a solution to all photosynthetic problems", also said the study's author Amanda Cavanagh, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of IL, for Gizmodo.

Researchers have found a way to address the increasing demand for food around the world. The process of photorespiration takes a lot of energy that otherwise would have been used for plant growth and yield.

According to the study, photorespiration normally takes a complicated route through three compartments in the plant cell. The process is energy-expensive, so researchers have engineered a photosynthesis glitch fix which will boost crop growth by 40%. They stress tested these roadmaps in 1,700 plants to winnow down the top performers.

The group tried their theories in tobacco: a flawless model plant for crop research because it is easier to change and test than food crops, yet not at all like elective plant models, it develops a leaf canopy and can be tried in the field.

In more than two years of field studies, the genetically engineered tobacco plants developed faster and put out more leaves and stems than plants that weren't modified, researchers said. This dramatically reduced the resources needed to detoxify the plant.

Efforts are now underway to transplant these findings to boost yields of potatoes, cowpea, soybeans and rice, he added. Study co-author Amanda Cavanagh, a postdoctoral researcher, explained that as the weather heats up, the Rubisco will find it even more challenging to pick out carbon dioxide from oxygen.

While it will likely take more than a decade for this technology to be translated into food crops and achieve regulatory approval, RIPE and its sponsors are committed to ensuring that smallholder farmers, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, will have royalty-free access to all of the project's breakthroughs.

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