Scientists at the University of Illinois and the US Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service published a new study in the journal Science according to which, a specific genetic modification boosts photosynthesis and improves plants growth by up to 40%. Photosynthesis is the primary process within plants, and it converts sunlight into the vital energy the plants need to survive. Boosting photosynthesis is leading to faster plants growth.
“We could feed up to 200 million additional people with the calories lost to photorespiration in the Midwestern US each year. Reclaiming even a portion of these calories across the world would go a long way to meeting the 21st Century’s rapidly expanding food demands – driven by population growth and more affluent high-calorie diets,” explained the principal investigator of the new study, Donald Ort.
“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 Illinois, for Gizmodo.
Genetic Modification Boosts Photosynthesis and Improves Plants Growth
Photosynthesis is essential for plants to survive, but it’s far from being perfect. In the presence of oxygen, photosynthesis has to be accompanied by a process called photorespiration that removes glycolate, a byproduct that is toxic to the plants. This additional process costs the plant up to 50 percent of the photosynthesis efficiency.
Scientists used computer simulations to create three new processes to tackle the glycolate. Then, the researchers spliced new DNA in the chloroplasts of the tobacco plants, while they also blocked the glycolate from leaving the chloroplasts to prevent photorespiration from triggering. The researchers noticed a 40% increase in the amount of biomass the plants produced thanks to that specific genetic modification.
“Rubisco [an enzyme necessary in photosyntheis] has even more trouble picking out carbon dioxide from oxygen as it gets hotter, causing more photorespiration. Our goal is to build better plants that can take the heat today and in the future, to help equip farmers with the technology they need to feed the world,” concluded Amanda Cavanagh.
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