Nav: Home

Soybean plants with fewer leaves yield more

November 18, 2016

Using computer model simulations, scientists have predicted that modern soybean crops produce more leaves than they need to the detriment of yield--a problem made worse by rising atmospheric carbon dioxide. They tested their prediction by removing about one third of the emerging leaves on soybeans and found an 8% increase in seed yield in replicated trials. They attribute this boost in yield to increased photosynthesis, decreased respiration, and diversion of resources that would have been invested in more leaves than seeds.

"The reduction in leaves allows more sun light to penetrate through the canopy making the whole plant more productive, and it also reduces crop water demand," said the project lead Praveen Kumar, Lovell Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois.

Currently, we only achieve a 1% annual increase in yields due to crop improvements, which has slowed in the last decade. "This rate is insufficient to fulfill the needs for global food security, where we need to produce 70-100% more food by 2050 to feed an estimated 9.7 billion people," said project co-lead Steve Long, Gutgsell Endowed Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois.

"We are trying to identify non-conventional techniques that can give us a quick boost in yield so that we can get closer to those predicted demands," said first author Venkatraman Srinivasan, a postdoctoral researcher at Illinois. "Soybeans are one of the four major staple crops and also the most important vegetable protein source in the world. If we can increase the yield of soybeans, we can solve the problems of protein demand and food production at the same time."

Published in Global Change Biology, their paper found that soybean plants produce too many leaves, most of which are shaded and inefficient, thereby wasting resources like water, carbon and nitrogen. "The model shows that by investing less in leaves, the plant can produce more seeds," Srinivasan said.

The model predicted that a 30-40% decrease in leaf area would increase yields by 8-10%. In field trials, they decreased leaf area (by manually cutting off new leaflets) by just 5% and still increased yields by 8%.

"The experiment indicates that that our model is conservative," Srinivasan said. "We hypothesize that plants with fewer leaves need less water, which requires fewer roots. Cutting down on roots could produce additional carbon savings that the plant can invest towards boosting yield. Alternatively, plants with fewer leaves are more water efficient, and thereby may be potentially drought tolerant."

Next, the researchers will bioengineer plants or search for varieties that naturally have fewer leaves to test these preliminary findings on a larger scale. They will also continue exploring ways to optimize other aspects of this crop's canopy of leaves--such as the distribution and angle of leaves--to design better soybean plants that yield more without the need for more water and other resources.

Srinivasan said, "We want to optimize the plant's canopy structure so that we can get as much photosynthesis as possible out of the crop to increase the food supply."
-end-
This work is part of Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), a multi-institutional research project that is developing high-yielding crops for farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Learn more about the project at http://ripe.illinois.edu/.

The paper "Decreasing, not increasing, leaf area will raise crop yields under global atmospheric change" was published in Global Change Biology (DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13526) and is available online or upon request. Funding from the National Science Foundation and RIPE project supported this research.

Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Related Carbon Articles:

Can wood construction transform cities from carbon source to carbon vault?
A new study by researchers and architects at Yale and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research predicts that a transition to timber-based wood products in the construction of new housing, buildings, and infrastructure would not only offset enormous amounts of carbon emissions related to concrete and steel production -- it could turn the world's cities into a vast carbon sink.
Investigation of oceanic 'black carbon' uncovers mystery in global carbon cycle
An unexpected finding published today in Nature Communications challenges a long-held assumption about the origin of oceanic black coal, and introduces a tantalizing new mystery: If oceanic black carbon is significantly different from the black carbon found in rivers, where did it come from?
First fully rechargeable carbon dioxide battery with carbon neutrality
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are the first to show that lithium-carbon dioxide batteries can be designed to operate in a fully rechargeable manner, and they have successfully tested a lithium-carbon dioxide battery prototype running up to 500 consecutive cycles of charge/recharge processes.
How and when was carbon distributed in the Earth?
A magma ocean existing during the core formation is thought to have been highly depleted in carbon due to its high-siderophile (iron loving) behavior.
New route to carbon-neutral fuels from carbon dioxide discovered by Stanford-DTU team
A new way to convert carbon dioxide into the building block for sustainable liquid fuels was very efficient in tests and did not have the reaction that destroys the conventional device.
How much carbon the land can stomach with more carbon dioxide in the air
Researchers from 28 institutions in nine countries succeeded in quantifying carbon dioxide fertilization for the past five decades, using simulations from 12 terrestrial ecosystem models and observations from seven field carbon dioxide enrichment experiments.
'Charismatic carbon'
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), addressing carbon emissions from our food sector is absolutely essential to combatting climate change.
Extreme wildfires threaten to turn boreal forests from carbon sinks to carbon sources
A research team investigated the impact of extreme fires on previously intact carbon stores by studying the soil and vegetation of the boreal forest and how they changed after a record-setting fire season in the Northwest Territories in 2014.
Can we still have fun if the UK goes carbon neutral?
Will Britain going carbon neutral mean no more fun? Experts from the University of Surrey have urged local policy makers to put in place infrastructure that will enable people to enjoy recreation and leisure while keeping their carbon footprint down.
Could there be life without carbon? (video)
One element is the backbone of all forms of life we've ever discovered on Earth: carbon.
More Carbon News and Carbon 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: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.