A team of Anglo-American biotechnologists has pioneered a technique that could increase yields in a variety of crops – even in drought conditions.

It follows field tests three years ago, led by Rothamsted Research and Syngenta, that showed the productivity of maize was boosted after a rice gene was added to regulate sucrose in kernels – which increased the ‘kernels per maize plant’. The processes that make it effective have now been examined in the lab, revealing its suitability to impact other crops.

“Now we know far more about how this yield effect has been achieved,” explained Matthew Paul, who led the anglo-american team from Rothamsted Research and Syngenta. “This is a first-in-its-kind study that shows the technology operating effectively both in the field and in the laboratory. We also think that this could be transferred to other cereals, such as wheat and rice.”

Innovations like this are vital in the quest to find solutions to feed a growing global population predicted to hit 9.8 billion by 2050, up from 7.6 billion today.