Nav: Home

Just how much does enhancing photosynthesis improve crop yield?

April 08, 2019

In the next two decades, crop yields need to increase dramatically to feed the growing global population. Wouldn't it be incredibly useful if we had a crystal ball to show us what are the best strategies available to increase crop yields?

A team of scientists have just developed exactly that: a dynamic model that predicts which photosynthetic manipulations to plants will boost the yields of wheat and sorghum crops.

"We have developed a reliable, biologically rigorous prediction tool that can quantify the yield gains associated with manipulating photosynthesis in realistic crop environments," said Dr Alex Wu, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis (CoETP) and The University of Queensland (UQ).

Plants convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into food through photosynthesis and several studies have shown that this vital process can be engineered to be more efficient.

"Until now, it has been difficult to assess the impacts of these manipulations on crop yield. This prediction tool will help us to find new ways to improve the yields of food crops around the world."

Dr Wu, the lead author of the paper published this week in the journal Nature Plants, said that this modelling tool has the capacity to link across biological scales from biochemistry in the leaf to the whole field crop over a growing season, by integrating photosynthesis and crop models.

"It is a powerful tool to assess and guide photosynthetic manipulations and unravel effects that confound the relationship between photosynthetic efficiency and crop performance, "he said.

Centre Deputy Director Professor Susanne von Caemmerer said one of the study's most innovative aspects was using a cross-scale modelling approach to look at the interactions between photosynthesis and the pores of the leaf that allow the exchange of CO2 and water vapour.

"We know that it is not as simple as saying that improving photosynthesis will increase yield. The answer depends on the situation," said Professor von Caemmerer, a researcher at The Australian National University (ANU) who is a co-author of the study.

"For example, we found that in crops like sorghum, more photosynthesis can actually decrease yield in water-limited cropping situations. The modelling predicts that we can manage this yield penalty if we can also maintain a stable rate of carbon dioxide entering, or water vapour exiting, the pores of a leaf."

Co-author and Centre Chief Investigator Professor Graeme Hammer from UQ said this study fosters the type of transdisciplinary research needed for future crop improvement.

"It links research across the whole Centre, which has a main focus to increase the yield of major staple crops such as wheat, rice, sorghum and maize by enhancing photosynthesis."

"Now that we have developed and tested this predictive model, our next step is to work closely with collaborators at the CoETP to design simulation scenarios that test the effects of other bioengineering and breeding trait targets," Professor Hammer said.

One of those collaborators is ANU Professor Graham Farquhar, who co-authored the study.

"In this study we are scaling up to the whole crop growth season and incorporating the feedback effects on photosynthesis of resources for the crop, such as water, which is critical in predicting consequences on crop productivity in future Australian crop environments", said Centre Chief Investigator Professor Farquhar from the ANU Research School of Biology.

The team investigated three main photosynthesis manipulation targets - enhancing the activity of the main photosynthetic enzyme, Rubisco; improving the capacity of the leaves to transport electrons; and improving the flow of carbon dioxide (CO2) through the internal layers of the leaf.

"This study permits us to quantify the consequences on crop yield for these three targets and their combinations for wheat and sorghum crops for irrigated or dryland cropping environments," said Dr Wu.

The team found crop yield changes ranged from a reduction of one per cent to a 12 per cent increase, depending on the combination of photosynthetic targets, the crop and environmental conditions such as water availability.
-end-
This research is published in Nature Plants and was funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis at the Australian National University and The University of Queensland.

University of Queensland

Related Photosynthesis Articles:

E. coli bacteria offer path to improving photosynthesis
Cornell University scientists have engineered a key plant enzyme and introduced it in Escherichia coli bacteria in order to create an optimal experimental environment for studying how to speed up photosynthesis, a holy grail for improving crop yields.
Showtime for photosynthesis
Using a unique combination of nanoscale imaging and chemical analysis, an international team of researchers has revealed a key step in the molecular mechanism behind the water splitting reaction of photosynthesis, a finding that could help inform the design of renewable energy technology.
Photosynthesis in a droplet
Researchers develop an artificial chloroplast.
Even bacteria need their space: Squished cells may shut down photosynthesis
Introverts take heart: When cells, like some people, get too squished, they can go into defense mode, even shutting down photosynthesis.
Marine cyanobacteria do not survive solely on photosynthesis
The University of Cordoba published a study in a journal from the Nature group that supports the idea that marine cyanobacteria also incorporate organic compounds from the environment.
Photosynthesis -- living laboratories
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich biologists Marcel Dann and Dario Leister have demonstrated for the first time that cyanobacteria and plants employ similar mechanisms and key proteins to regulate cyclic electron flow during photosynthesis.
Photosynthesis seen in a new light by rapid X-ray pulses
In a new study, led by Petra Fromme and Nadia Zatsepin at the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery, the School of Molecular Sciences and the Department of Physics at ASU, researchers investigated the structure of Photosystem I (PSI) with ultrashort X-ray pulses at the European X-ray Free Electron Laser (EuXFEL), located in Hamburg, Germany.
Photosynthesis olympics: can the best wheat varieties be even better?
Scientists have put elite wheat varieties through a sort of 'Photosynthesis Olympics' to find which varieties have the best performing photosynthesis.
Strange bacteria hint at ancient origin of photosynthesis
Structures inside rare bacteria are similar to those that power photosynthesis in plants today, suggesting the process is older than assumed.
Just how much does enhancing photosynthesis improve crop yield?
In the next two decades, crop yields need to increase dramatically to feed the growing global population.
More Photosynthesis News and Photosynthesis Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.