An international research project backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has discovered new ways to boost crop productivity. Innovations which will be vital in developing scalable solutions to feed a growing global population amid dwindling natural resources.
The project: Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), spearheaded by scientists at the University of Essex, has uncovered ‘two major photosynthetic bottlenecks’ that would enable plants to realise a 27% greater yield.
“Like a factory line, plants are only as fast as their slowest machines,” explains Patricia Lopez-Calcagno, a postdoctoral researcher at Essex, who led this work for the RIPE project. “We have identified some steps that are slower, and what we’re doing is enabling these plants to build more machines to speed up these slower steps in photosynthesis.”
RIPE is being spearheaded by the University of Illinois to generate more productive crops through improved photosynthesis. In the study by the University of Essex team, a 27% boost was achieved. This was through a mix of adding a protein, cytochrome c6, that supports the process of converting sunlight into energy; and by applying additional cellular material from other species, to enable sugar to be made more efficiently. These ‘hacks’ also resulted in water savings.
“Our modeling suggests that stacking this breakthrough with two previous discoveries from the RIPE project could result in additive yield gains totaling as much as 50% to 60% in food crops,” said RIPE Director Stephen Long, Ikenberry Endowed University Chair of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois.
Tobacco was the crop used in this study, as it easy to engineer and grow. The team will now test these new discoveries on food crops like rice, maize and soybean.
Technology outcomes from the RIPE project will be made easily accessible to farmers that need them, thanks to the Global Access model used by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.