Scientists engineer shortcut for photosynthetic glitch, boost crop growth 40%

I’m sure there are downsides to this but it just adds to the pile of things that GMOs could do to improve crop and fruit production.


Journal Reference :

  1. Paul F. South, et al. Synthetic glycolate metabolism pathways stimulate crop growth and productivity in the field . Science , Jan 4th, 2019 DOI: 10.1126/science.aat9077

Sounds somewhat like turning C3 plants into C4 plants. So this won’t benefit the more efficient C4 plants like corn and sugarcane. Still it gives an idea of what’s possible.

I think most trees are C3. So this could come to many fruits at some point.


Hopefully this is an update and sign of progress.

I think we are seeing the beginning of targeted genome engineering where clusters of genes will be engineered to be more efficient. There are three different approaches so far:

  1. Improve the phototranspiration biopath such that oxygen is removed more efficiently
  2. Modify the sunlight/shade adaptation genes to cycle faster
  3. Modify the base photosynthesis mechanism from c3 to C4

Here is a blurb on the second:

"The VPZ construct contains three genes that code for proteins of the xanthophyll cycle, which is a pigment cycle that helps in the photo-protection of the plants. Once in full sunlight, this cycle is activated in the leaves to protect them from damage, allowing leaves to dissipate the excess energy. However, when the leaves are shaded (by other leaves, clouds, or the sun moving in the sky) this photo-protection needs to switch off so the leaves can continue the photosynthesis process with a reserve of sunlight. It takes several minutes for the plant to switch off the protective mechanism, costing plants valuable time that could have been used for photosynthesis.

Over-expression of the three genes from the VPZ construct accelerates the process, so every time a leaf transitions from light to shade the photoprotection switches off faster. Leaves gain extra minutes of photosynthesis which, when added up throughout the entire growing season, increases the total photosynthetic rate. This research has shown that despite achieving a more than 20% increase in yield, seed quality was not impacted."

Perhaps the most important information on the web is that photosynthesis has a ton of room to be improved. Plants currently use about 1% of the light falling on their leaves. Think what would change if they were 10% efficient!

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