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US scientists engineer photosynthetic ‘glitch’ shortcut which could boost crop growth by 40 per cent

Plants convert sunlight into energy through photosynthesis; however, most crops on the planet have a photosynthetic glitch, and to deal with it, have evolved an energy-expensive process - photorespiration that drastically suppresses yield potential, according to American researchers.

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Crops engineered with a photorespiratory shortcut are 40 per cent more productive in field conditions, report researchers from the University of Illionois and US Department of Agriculture in the journal, Science.

 

“We could feed up to 200 million additional people with the calories lost to photorespiration in the Midwestern US each year,” says principal investigator Donald Ort, Robert Emerson Professor at the University of Illionois “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.”


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Complicated route

 

Photorespiration normally takes a complicated route through three compartments in the plant cell. The scientists say they have engineered alternative pathways to reroute the process, drastically shortening the trip and saving enough resources to boost plant growth by 40 per cent. This is the first time that an engineered photorespiration fix has been tested in field conditions, they add.

 

They tested their hypotheses in tobacco, said to be an ideal model plant for crop research, and are now said to be working to translate these findings to boost the yield of crops including potatoes. They researchers estimate the technology will take more than a decade to be translated into food crops and achieve regulatory approval.

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