Boosting the yield of soybean – a major food crop – can be achieved by enhancing its ability to photosynthesise, a team of international scientists has revealed.
It is a major breakthrough in the fight to end the horror of global hunger. In 2021, 811 million people were undernourished – about 10% of the global population, up from 8.4% in 2019, according to the annual State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report. This was fuelled by the impacts of the pandemic, which exacerbated the ongoing drivers of hunger: ‘conflict, climate variability and extremes, and economic slowdowns and downturns’.
With this new research, backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, scientists have demonstrated that bioengineering soybean plants to improve their efficiency to photosynthesise leads to higher yields without any loss of quality.
Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency, or RIPE, is the name of the international project, which is tasked with doing exactly that for crops farmed by smallholders in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“The major impact of this work is to open the roads for showing that we can bioengineer photosynthesis and improve yields to increase food production in major crops,” explains Amanda De Souza, RIPE project research scientist, and lead author. “It is the beginning of the confirmation that the ideas ingrained by the RIPE project are a successful means to improve yield in major food crops.”
The RIPE team has been working on this for a decade now, in its pursuit to find ways of improving the highly inefficient process of photosynthesis, and this latest work shows it can increase yields in soybean crops by 20%.
“After years of trial and tribulation, it is wonderfully rewarding to see such a spectacular result for the team,” added RIPE Director Stephen Long, Ikenberry Endowed University Chair of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at Illinois’ Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology.
More field tests are being carried out this year with results due in early 2023.