Wednesday, 19 June, 2019

Scientists were able to create plants with improved productivity

Image of a person hand-transplanting tobacco Enlarge A scientist transplants engineered tobacco for
Kristen Harrington | 06 January, 2019, 01:16

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

Researchers at the University of IL and US Department of Agriculture revealed they had restructured plants with a "photorespiratory shortcut", meaning less wasted energy that allows them to grow more. However, around 25 percent of the time RuBisCO incorrectly collects oxygen molecules instead, creating a plant-toxic byproduct that disrupts the entire photosynthesis process.

"We could feed up to 200 million additional people with the calories lost to photorespiration in the Midwestern U.S. each year", principal investigator Donald Ort, the Robert Emerson Professor of Plant Science and Crop Sciences at Illinois' Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology said in a statement. "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". 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.

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The plant recycles these chemicals in a process called photorespiration, but this uses up valuable energy that could otherwise have been used to boost the plant's growth.

"It costs the plant precious energy and resources that it could have invested in photosynthesis to produce more growth and yield", said South, who also works on the RIPE project in IL. The photosynthesis process is "nearly identical in plants so we expect that benefits observed in tobacco will result in changes to food crops", said South.

"Rubisco has even more trouble picking out carbon dioxide from oxygen as it gets hotter, causing more photorespiration", co-author Amanda Cavanagh, an IL postdoctoral researcher working on the RIPE project said in a statement. To reduce the energy wasted on photorespiration, the researchers rerouted the process, drastically shortening the trip that the compound has to make to be recycled.

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They tested and compared three different genetic variations and found the most successful one saved enough energy and resources to increase productivity by 40 per cent in real-world conditions. They stretch tried these guides in 1,700 plants to winnow down the top performers. The modified tobacco grew around 40 percent more biomass than unaltered plants. 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.

Efforts are now underway to transplant these findings to boost yields of potatoes, cowpea, soybeans and rice, he added. This dramatically reduced the resources needed to detoxify the plant.

"Rubisco has even more trouble picking out carbon dioxide from oxygen as it gets hotter, causing more photorespiration", said co-author Amanda Cavanagh, an IL postdoctoral researcher working on the RIPE project.

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MIT Technology Review notes that it could take decades to both prove that these genetic modifications produce more food and gain regulatory approval for the crops.

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