Nav: Home

'Turbocharging' photosynthesis in corn hikes yield

October 01, 2018

ITHACA, N.Y.- Scientists from the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) and Cornell University have boosted a carbon-craving enzyme called RuBisCO to turbocharge photosynthesis in corn. The discovery promises to be a key step in improving agricultural efficiency and yield, according to new research in Nature Plants, Oct. 1.

Increased RuBisCO assists corn's biological machinery used during photosynthesis to incorporate atmospheric carbon dioxide into carbohydrates.

"Every metabolic process - like photosynthesis - has the equivalent of traffic lights or speed bumps," said plant biologist David Stern, president of the Cornell-affiliated BTI. "RuBisCO is often the limiting factor in photosynthesis. With increased RuBisCO, though, this well-known speed bump is lowered, leading to improved photosynthetic efficiency."

RuBisCO does have a formal, scientific name. It's Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase, an enzyme that helps convert carbon dioxide into sugar. It's generally accepted, said Stern, that it's the Earth's most abundant enzyme.

But for the world of commercial agriculture and corn's C4 (four-carbon compound) photosynthesis system, RuBisCO works slowly.

BTI researchers found a way to overexpress a key chaperone enzyme called RuBisCO Assembly Factor 1, or RAF1, to help make more RuBisCO.

"It needs help from other proteins to assemble itself," said lead author Coralie Salesse, a Cornell doctoral candidate in the field of plant biology.

With the chaperone enzyme, the scientists in effect lowered a different speed bump - one that limits the rate at which RuBisCO can attain the right biological architecture - leading the plants to accumulate more of it.

The exact mechanism of how RuBisCO was assembled had been a mystery for many years, until the RAF1 and RAF2 proteins were discovered, said Salesse.

Salesse conducted research at the laboratories of Robert Sharwood and Florian Busch at the Australian National University and at the laboratory of Steven Long, University of Illinois. Salesse found that increasing RuBisCO causes greenhouse-grown plants to flower sooner, grow taller and produce more biomass.

"Corn is an important but land and energy-intensive crop, and reducing its environmental footprint is important. Just in this country, corn is grown on some 90 million acres, and nearly 15 billion bushels were produced in recent years," said Stern, Cornell adjunct professor of plant biology. He explained there are different approaches to increasing biomass per acre, including boosting photosynthesis, which could increase the weight of each ear of corn and thus yield per acre.

Stern noted - with this finding - that the same approach may have promise to improve yields in other C4 crops, such as sorghum and sugarcane.

"As we move from the greenhouse and into the fields, we hope to eventually observe improved growth and yield in production varieties," he said. "Turbocharging RuBisCO has the potential to provide a foundation for profound effects on the corn plant's ability to mature and produce biomass, especially when combined with other approaches."
-end-
Other authors of "Overexpression of Rubisco Subunits With RAF1 Increases Rubisco Content in Maize" are BTI's Viktoriya Bardal, who was an intern in the Stern laboratory, and Johannes Kromdijk from the University of Illinois. Funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.

Cornell University

Related Photosynthesis Articles:

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.
Tethered chem combos could revolutionize artificial photosynthesis
Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have doubled the efficiency of a chemical combo that captures light and splits water molecules so the building blocks can be used to produce hydrogen fuel.
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.
Algal library lends insights into genes for photosynthesis
To identify genes involved in photosynthesis, researchers built a library containing thousands of single-celled algae, each with a different gene mutation.
New molecular blueprint advances our understanding of photosynthesis
Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have used one of the most advanced microscopes in the world to reveal the structure of a large protein complex crucial to photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into cellular energy.
How bacteria build hyper-efficient photosynthesis machines
Researchers facing a future with a larger population and more uncertain climate are looking for ways to improve crop yields, and they're looking to photosynthetic bacteria for engineering solutions.
Structure and function of photosynthesis protein explained in detail
An international team of researchers has solved the structure and elucidated the function of photosynthetic complex I.
Photosynthesis like a moss
Moss evolved after algae but before vascular land plants, such as ferns and trees, making them an interesting target for scientists studying photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight to fuel.
More Photosynthesis News and Photosynthesis Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.