Scientists fix photosynthesis ‘glitch’ in plants and boost crop growth by 40%
Genetically engineered plants 'would go a long way to meeting the 21st century's rapidly expanding food demands', scientists say
Scientists have genetically engineered plants so they grow up to 40pc larger by tweaking the process they use to turn sunlight into food.
Photosynthesis allows plants to harvest the sun’s energy and produces vital oxygen as a by-product, fuelling the rich array of life on Earth.
However, this mechanism is hampered by an energy intensive process called photorespiration, which plants have evolved to work around an inefficiency present in regular photosynthesis.
“Photorespiration is anti-photosynthesis,” said Dr Paul South, a molecular biologist at the US Department of Agriculture who led the international team responsible for study, published in the journal Science. “It costs the plant precious energy and resources that it could have invested in photosynthesis to produce more growth and yield.”
One of the key components in photosynthesis is Rubisco, a substance that helps convert carbon dioxide and water into the sugars that plants need.
Around 20pc of the time Rubisco mistakenly grabs oxygen instead of CO2, resulting in the production of a toxic substance that must be removed by photorespiration.
Photorespiration uses a large amount of energy as the substances involved follow a lengthy path that travels through three compartments in the plant cell.
To cut down on energetic costs, Dr South and his colleagues created plants with much shorter pathways, a feat of plant engineering they compared to the Panama Canal in the way it boosted efficiency.