Eliminating photosynthesis ‘bottleneck’ could boost crop yields by 10%

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Scientists have found how to relieve a bottleneck in the process by which plants transform sunlight into food, which may lead to an increase in crop production. They discovered that producing more of a protein that controls the rate in which electrons flow during photosynthesis, accelerates the whole process.

“We tested the effect of increasing the production of the Rieske FeS protein, and found it increases photosynthesis by 10 percent,” said lead researcher Dr Maria Ermakova from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis (CoETP).

“The Rieske FeS protein belongs to a complex which is like a hose through which electrons flow, so the energy can be used by the carbon engine of the plant. By overexpressing this protein, we have discovered how to release the pressure of the hose, so more electrons can flow, accelerating the photosynthetic process,” said Dr Ermakova, who works at The Australian National University (ANU) Centre Node.

Dr Ermakova, the lead author of the paper published this week in the journal Communications Biology, said that this is the first time that scientists have generated more of the Rieske FeS protein inside plants that use the C4 photosynthesis pathway.

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Until now, the majority of efforts to improve photosynthesis have been done in species that use C3 photosynthesis, such as wheat and rice, but not a lot has been done in enhancing C4 photosynthesis.

This is despite the fact that C4 crop species — like maize and sorghum — play a key role in world agriculture, and are already some of the most productive crops in the world.

“These results demonstrate that changing the rate of electron transport enhances photosynthesis in the C4 model species, Setaria viridis, a close relative of maize and sorghum. It is an important proof of concept that helps us enormously to understand more about how C4 photosynthesis works,” said CoETP’s Deputy Director Professor Susanne von Caemmerer, one of the co-authors of this study.

Read full, original article: Discovery of a bottleneck relief in photosynthesis may have a major impact on food crops

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