Plant biologists have thought of a clever new way to increase the size of crops by as much as 20 per cent. They have genetically modified part of the mechanism in plants that is responsible for photosynthesis. Of course, photosynthesis is the most important chemical reaction in the world. It is the process where plants use sunlight to change carbon dioxide into oxygen. This means we can all breathe. The scientists have found a way for plants to use the energy they get from sunlight better, so they grow bigger and produce more food. Lead researcher Professor Stephen Long said his team is genetically modifying staple crops such as rice, wheat, maize and soybean – the world's biggest crops.
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The scientists targeted the mechanism that plants use to protect themselves from damage when the Sun's rays are too strong. To prevent damage, plants turn their energy into heat, which disappears into the air. However, this heat-loss process continues even when clouds block the Sun. The scientists put extra copies of the heat-loss genes into modified plants. These additional copies speed up the heat-loss process so the plants can more quickly return to using energy to grow. Professor Long believes this could help the world's food needs. He said if he could get 20 per cent more food from crops, "that would greatly [reduce] what we see as the future pressure on food supply".
- J. Kromdijk et al., "Improving photosynthesis and crop productivity by accelerating recovery from photoprotection," Science, 354:857-61, 2016.