Crop Biotech Update

Engineering the Photosynthetic Pathway for More Efficient Rice Plants

January 16, 2009

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), along with a global consortium of researchers, has undertaken the mammoth task of re-engineering the photosynthetic pathway in rice. The research could lead to the development of rice varieties that can produce 50 percent more grain using less fertilizer and less water. For this project, the Institute has received a grant of US$11 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “This is a long-term, complex project that will take a decade or more to complete,” explained John Sheehy, IRRI scientist and project leader. “The result of this strategic research has the potential to benefit billions of poor people.”

Plants make their own food by capturing carbon dioxide and converting it to carbohydrates, a process called photosynthesis. Some plants manufacture  food more efficiently than others. Normally, these carbon-efficient plant species possess the advanced C4 carbon fixation pathway. The C4 mechanism overcomes the tendency of RuBisCo, the key enzyme in photosynthesis, to waste energy. The pathway allows plants to survive under conditions of drought and high temperatures and carbon dioxide and nitrogen limitation. Sheehy and colleagues aims to convert the photosynthesis of rice from the less-efficient C3 form to the C4 form.

The media release is available at