An army of scientists is hard at work to understand how plants sense, defend and adapt to harsh environments.
Genes hold the key to developing many new technologies, [Jian-Kang Zhu, distinguished professor of plant biology at Purdue University] explained.
At the University of Illinois, Stephen Long wants to know how to tweak plants for more efficient response to photosynthesis under higher temperatures.
His research initially uses tobacco to test concepts because it can be modified more quickly and cheaply compared to other crops. Yet, tobacco is similar to other crops because it produces many leaf layers when planted in dense stands.
“We are selecting genes to help improve photosynthesis,” Long continued. “Often, that gene is already present in a crop, but it’s not producing enough of the protein that it codes for. We’re trying to look at those gene properties and use them to modify a plant to produce more key proteins.”
In one test, Long’s team inserted three genes into tobacco plants to attempt to boost three proteins involved in adjusting photosynthetic efficiency when leaves go from full sunlight to shade. Two modified plant lines resulted in 20% higher productivity, and a third showed a 14% increase compared to unaltered plants.
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