Monday, 25 March, 2019

Genetically modified 'shortcut' boosts plant growth by 40pc

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Cary Marshall | 06 January, 2019, 01:15

However, around 25 percent of the time RuBisCO incorrectly collects oxygen molecules instead, creating a plant-toxic byproduct that disrupts the entire photosynthesis process.

These toxins are then recycled by the plant in a process called photorespiration - but this costs the plant precious energy that could have been used to increase yield. 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.

The researchers from US Department of Agriculture and the University of IL at Urbana-Champaign introduced genetic constructs that tweaked a process called photorespiration in tobacco plants.

Principal investigator Donald Ort (GEGC leader/BSD/CABBI) said, "We could feed up to 200 million additional people with the calories lost to photorespiration in the Midwestern U.S. each year". Smooth running photorespiration is a substantial measure onward in endeavors to intensify photosynthesis says Spencer Whitney, a plant biochemist at Australian National University in Canberra.

Researchers have found a way to address the increasing demand for food around the world.

As reported in the journal Science, the team at the University of Illinois-based research program-called Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE)-have engineered plants that grow faster and taller, and produced about 40% more biomass. The US team engineered alternate pathways to reroute the process, drastically shortening the trip and saving enough resources to boost plant growth by 40 per cent.

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Now, Dr. Paul South from the US Agricultural Research Service and colleagues have found a way around this problem by engineering a way to shortcut this energy-expensive process.

Scientists started by engineering three alternate routes to replace the circuitous native pathway. To optimize the new routes, they designed genetic constructs using different sets of promoters and genes, essentially creating a suite of unique roadmaps. They stretch tried these guides in 1,700 plants to winnow down the top performers.

Scientists in the USA have engineered tobacco plants that can grow up to 40% larger than normal in field trials. Right now, the researchers have only tested the process om tobacco plants.

"Our goal is to build better plants that can take the heat today and in the future, to help equip farmers with the technology they need to feed the world", said co-author Amanda Cavanagh, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of IL.

The scientists used tobacco plants for their experiment because they are quick and easy to modify, but they hope the approach could be used to significantly boost the yield of other important crops such as wheat, rice, soybean, potato and tomato.

The study estimates it will take more than a decade to be rolled out commercially, but added they were committed to providing smallholder farms, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia with royalty-free access to their breakthroughs.

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