Scientists enhanced photosynthesis and increased the creation of organic matter by 40 %. All they needed was a few genes that were borrowed using genetic engineering.
If we don’t want to soon see people dying because of famine and see the unpleasant social implications that come with it we will need to increase our food production quite a lot. And in reality, there are only two ways to achieve that. Either we increase the amount of land used to produce food or we increase the production by introducing plants that have higher yields on the same or even smaller area.
And a key to the second way may be a discovery made by Donald Ortem from the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology about which they recently wrote in the prestigious journal Science.
Ort and his coworkers focused on reserves that can be found in the enzyme known as RuBisCo (Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase). The enzyme plays a key role in photosynthesis as it helps in synthesizing sugars from water and carbon dioxide. But it does have its problems as sometimes it has issues distinguishing between carbon dioxide and oxygen molecules. In one out of five cases RuBisCo uses the oxygen molecule. This not only means fewer sugars created but also leads to the creation of toxic molecules.
This makes something that could be called “anti-photosynthesis” and the whole process is thus much less effective as the plants waste energy and material to produce dangerous products. Over the years scientists were trying to suppress the “anti-photosynthesis” and so far they weren’t really successful. But ort found an elegant solution in tobacco.
Ort and his colleagues tried three different ways to get rid of the “anti-photosynthesis” more effectively. More precisely they focused on the disposal of glycolic acid as that is the most common toxic product created by RuBisCo. In the end, they tested over 1700 plants and those they were the most successful were put into real testing.
The test was more than successful – more than 40 % green mass was produced by the plants! The project is one of the many steps needed on the road towards better plants with higher yields. It could even help plants survive better in conditions that are assumed to be coming with climate change as in higher temperatures RuBisCo makes mistakes more often.