Crop Biotech Update

Researchers Prove Multigene Bioengineering of Photosynthesis Increases Soybean Yields

August 24, 2022

For the first time, researchers from the research project Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) have proven in field trials that the multigene bioengineering of photosynthesis increases the yield of soybeans. After more than a decade, the collaborative team led by the University of Illinois and scientists at Lancaster University has transgenically altered soybean plants to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis, resulting in greater yields without loss of quality.

The researchers at RIPE have been working to improve the 100+ step process of photosynthesis for over a decade. In this first-of-its-kind work, the RIPE researchers improved the VPZ construct of the soybean plant to improve photosynthesis and then conducted field trials to see if yield would be improved as a result. The PVZ construct has three genes that code for proteins of the xanthophyll cycle, a pigment cycle that helps in the photoprotection of the plants. In full sunlight, the xanthophyll cycle is activated in the leaves to protect them from damage and to dissipate excess energy. When the leaves are shaded, this photoprotection switches off so the leaves can continue the photosynthesis process. It takes several minutes for the plant to switch off the protective mechanism, which costs the plant valuable time that could have been used for photosynthesis.

The research team soon discovered that the overexpression of the three genes from the VPZ construct accelerates photosynthesis, so every time a leaf transitions from light to shade, the photoprotection switches off faster. Leaves gain extra minutes of photosynthesis which, when added up throughout the entire growing season, increases the total photosynthetic rate. This RIPE research has shown that despite achieving more than a 20 percent increase in yield, seed quality was not impacted.

For more details, read the news releases from RIPE and the University of Lancaster.

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