What if countries could increase their crop yields by 60%? Research from the RIPE project on enhancements in photosynthesis could produce this sort of improvement. So far, the research has been conducted in tobacco plants because they’re easy to work with. But if 60 or even 25-30 % crop yield increases can be realised in commercial crops like corn, cassava and soy it’d go a long way to feeding the 10 bn population in 2050. These enhancements also “improved the crop’s water-use efficiency, or the ratio of biomass produced to water lost by the plant”. A very useful result given that water availability is a major limiting factor on global food production.
Of particular interest is that RIPE project research will be freely available globally. So, given that any country will be able to use this technology what happens to countries that don’t? They’ll be at a considerable economic disadvantage and how long will any countries banning these products be able to hold out? They’ll be faced with a more expensive food system and how long will consumers tolerate that state of affairs? Going to get interesting very quickly once the technology is commercialised.
It’s GMO, but so what? GMO crops have been around for 30 years and none of the doomsday scenarios have eventuated. We need these sorts of technologies in our armoury if we’re going to feed the growing global population. When will enough time have elapsed to pronounce GMO’s safe?
For those interested in the science;
The research is based upon the premise that plants are like a “factory line” so are as fast as the slowest “machine”. By finding the slowest machine in the 170 step photosynthetic process and speeding it up sugar production can be boosted, so boosting growth.
The latest work, yielding “only” a 27 % yield increase, focused on two constraints on photosynthetic efficiency. One “in the first part of photosynthesis where plants transform light energy into chemical energy and one in the second part where carbon dioxide is fixed into sugars.”
The first solution involved adding a more efficient transport protein, cytochrome c6 from algae, to the plant plastocyanin protein. These “cellular forklifts” help shuttle electrons into the photosystem, improving photosynthetic efficiency
In the second solution researchers added “cellular machinery” for improved conversion of CO2 to sugars. They did this by increasing the amount of a key enzyme called SBPase, using the cellular machinery from another plant species and cyanobacteria.
By “stacking” these and two previous improvements additive yield gains of 50 – 60 % could be realised.
PS RIPE stand for Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency