Altered Plant Genes Increase Crop Yields
Between the ever increasing global population and the rising mercury associated with climate change, it’s no surprise farmers are facing two inter-connected problems: growing enough crops to feed an expanding population while withstanding increasingly hotter and dryer conditions. However there is some hope – a group of scientists “announced this week that they’d found a way to boost crop output by changing plants on a genetic level to make them use the sun’s energy more effectively,” according to Popular Science. To accomplish this, the team of multi-institutional researchers examined a process known as nonphotochemical quenching of chlorophyll fluorescence (NPQ).
This process enables the plant to release excess light energy as heat when exposed to excess sunlight so that it doesn’t burn. When the plant is no longer in direct sunlight, or under shade, NPQ slows down. However, this process takes time, during which photosynthesis remains slow. To determine if they could increase the efficiency of photosynthesis, the researchers examined tabacco plants. They were able to “tweak” the genes associated with the plants’ NPQ. “The changes resulted in increased production of three proteins involved in slowing down the NPQ process,” Popular Science reported. “By quickening the relaxation of NPQ, the researchers enhanced the tobacco plants’ photosynthetic efficiency by about 15 percent.”
Researcher Krishna Niyogi stressed that the point of this project was not to improve to productivity of tobacco, but to use as a proof of concept because tobacco is “easy to work with in the lab, and it has a canopy that’s similar to food crop plants,” he said. “Our goal is to see this reach poor farmers around the world,” Niyogi told Popular Science. “Business-as-usual plant breeding is not going to get us there.”