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Crop Biotech Update

Max Planck Researchers Engineer Key Enzyme in Photosynthesis

December 13, 2017

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry have succeeded in producing functional plant Rubisco in a bacterium, allowing genetic engineering of the enzyme. Rubisco, a critical enzyme in photosynthesis, catalyzes the first step in carbohydrate production in plants, the fixation of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The researchers, led by Dr. Manajit Hayer-Hartl, generated functional plant Rubisco in a bacterial host by simultaneously expressing plant chaperones and Rubisco in the same cells. This enabled the scientists to understand the complex assembly pathway of Rubisco, and also modify the Rubisco gene to improve its properties. Once they have obtained a Rubisco variant with a desired trait, they can insert the modified gene back into the plant cells, a key-step towards improving photosynthesis through Rubisco engineering.

"The bacterial expression system resembles an assembly line for cars. Whereas previously, every optimized variant of Rubisco had to be painstakingly expressed in a transgenic plant, which takes a year or more to generate - like building a car by hand - we can now make hundreds or thousands of Rubisco variants in days or weeks. It is like building cars in an automated assembly line," explains Dr. Hayer-Hartl.

For more details, read the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry news release.