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Crop Biotech Update

Speeding Up Photorespiration Boosts Crop Production by 47%

June 13, 2018

A new study led by scientists at the University of Essex reveals that increasing production of a common, naturally occurring protein in plant leaves could boost the yields of major food crops by almost 50 percent.

In the study, the research team engineered a model crop to overexpress a native protein that is involved in the recycling process called photorespiration. After two years of field trials, they found that increasing the H-protein in the plants' leaves increases production by 27 to 47 percent. However, increasing this protein throughout the plant stunts growth and metabolism, resulting in four-week-old plants that are half the size of their unaltered counterparts.

Lead author Patricia Lopez-Calcagno said that scientists have used promoters that express proteins at high levels throughout the plant, but for the H-protein, they realized that more is not always better, and when the method is translated to other crop plants, changes in protein must be to the right levels in the right tissues. The team plans to increase the levels of this protein in soybeans, cowpeas (black-eyed peas), and cassava to increase the yields and opportunities for farmers worldwide, particularly smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

For more details, read the news release at the Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) website.