For years genetic engineers have sought to improve yields of staple crops by creating plants with traits such as drought tolerance or the ability to survive freezing temperatures in winter and thrive in the shade. Now scientists have also discovered a way to increase plant productivity, which means they can suck more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. And that’s just what they did.
By inserting a plant gene into a tobacco plant, scientists boosted photosynthesis and plant growth by as much as 40 percent. The findings could help determine which genes influence plants’ ability to turn sunlight into food, provide more food for the growing population, and help reduce global warming by improving photosynthetic efficiency.
Genetic engineering has now enabled researchers to design a photorespiration mechanism concentrated within a single cell compartment – the cellular equivalent of a Maine-to-Florida road trip straight down the East Coast.
“Researchers are working on making photosynthesis more efficient now that farmers have largely optimized pesticides, fertilizers, and irrigation as yield-boosting tools.” Said Spencer Whitney, a plant biochemist at Australian National University in Canberra.
“The results of the study are exciting; it’s so much joy to see how well this genetic tweak worked in tobacco,” says Veronica Maurino, a physiologist at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf in Germany.
In South’s laboratory, scientists are currently testing the new set of genetic modifications on potatoes. They plan to test them on soybeans, black-eyed peas, and rice.
Andreas Weber, a plant biochemist at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, who specializes in genetic modification, says that we will have to wait at least another 5 to 10 years before these modifications are permitted to be used in commercial farming.