New Method Genetically Tweaks Photosynthesis to Boost Plant Growth

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A team of researchers genetically engineered tobacco plant with a simplified process of photorespiration to increase its growth by 40 percent.

The new approach identified by scientists has potential to make photosynthesis more efficient and could be favorable in increasing the agricultural production significantly. The principle of photorespiration helps plants to simplify a complex and energy-expensive process that is functioned by plants while performing photosynthesis. 

While demonstrating the research, the researchers genetically modified tobacco and showed that the procedure increased plant growth by over 40 percent. The researchers were hopeful that similar results in other crops could help farmers meet the food demands of a growing global population. The results were published by the researchers in the journal Science in January 2019.

Spencer Whitney, a plant biochemist at Australian National University in Canberra and not involved in the work, said: “Streamlining photorespiration is a great step forward in efforts to enhance photosynthesis. That Rubisco-oxygen interaction, which happens about 20 percent of the time, generates the toxic compound glycolate, which a plant must recycle into useful molecules through photorespiration.”

The process uses a long chain of chemical reactions, which is covered in four compartments in a plant cell. The waste of energy can cut crop yields by 20 to 50 percent, relying on plant species and environmental conditions. The researchers used genetic engineering to design a more direct chemical pathway for photorespiration that is confined to a single cell compartment.

Veronica Maurino, a plant physiologist at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf in Germany not involved in the research, said, ““It’s very exciting to see how well this genetic tweak worked in tobacco, says, but you can’t say, It’s functioning. Now it will function everywhere.”

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Cynthia Carrier is a graduate of Texas A&M, where she played volleyball and annoyed a lot of professors. Now as Plains Gazette's entertainment and Lifestyle Editor, she enjoys writing about delicious BBQ, outrageous style trends and all things Texas.