Scientists have discovered how to alleviate the difficulties in the process by which plants convert sunlight into food, which can lead to increased crop production. They found that the production of more protein, which controls the rate at which electrons flow during photosynthesis, speeds up the whole process.
"We tested the effect of increasing the production of Rieske FeS protein and found that it increased photosynthesis by 10 percent," says lead researcher Dr. Maria Ermakova of the ARC Center for Translational Photosynthesis (CoETP).
"The Rieske FeS protein belongs to a complex that is like a hose through which electrons flow, so energy can be used by the carbon engine of the plant. By overexpressing this protein, we have discovered how to release the hose pressure, that is, so we can more electrons flow, speeding up the process of photosynthesis, "said Dr Ermakova, who works at the Australian National University (ANU) Center Node.
Dr. Ermakova, the lead author of the article published this week in the magazine Communication Biology, said this is the first time scientists have generated more of the Rieske FeS protein inside plants that use the C4 photosynthesis pathway.
So far, most of the efforts to improve photosynthesis have been made in species that use C3 photosynthesis, such as wheat and rice, but not much has been done to improve C4 photosynthesis.
This is despite the fact that C4 crops – such as maize and sorghum – play a key role in world agriculture and are already one of the most productive crops in the world.
"These results indicate that changing the electron transport rate enhances photosynthesis in the C4 model, Setaria viridis, a close relative of maize and sorghum. This is important proof of the concept, which helps us to understand a great deal more about how it works. photosynthesis of C4, "said CoETP Deputy Director Prof. Susan von Kaemmer, one of the co-authors of this study.
The Rieske protein is especially important in high-emission environments where C4 plants grow. Previous studies have shown that overexpression of the Rieske protein in C3 plants enhances photosynthesis, but more studies on C4 plants were needed.
"It's really exciting, because now we're ready to turn it into sorghum and try the effect it has on biomass in food crops," says Professor von Kemmerer.
The research is the result of an international collaboration with researchers at the University of Essex in the UK, who are part of the RIPE project.
"This is a great example of the need for international cooperation to address the complex challenges facing attempts to improve crop production," said University of Essex researcher Patricia Lopez-Calcanho, who is involved in the production of some of the major genetic components about plant transformation,
"Over the last 30 years, we have learned a great deal about how C4 plants work by degrading them – breaking them as part of the discovery process. However, this is the first example in which we have actually improved the plants." says Professor Robert Fairbank, director of the ARC Center for Excellence in Translational Photosynthesis and one of the study's authors.
"Our next steps are to assemble the entire FeS protein complex, which has many other components. There is much more to work and many things about this protein complex that we do not yet understand. We have achieved a 10 percent improvement by overexpressing the Rieske FeS component, but we know we can do better than that, "says Professor Furbank.
How much improvement in photosynthesis improves yields?
Communication Biology (2019). DOI: 10.1038 / s42003-019-0561-9
ARC Center of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis
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