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Roots & Shoots' Guest blogger: Anthony Studer from Dr. Tom Brutnell’s lab at the Danforth Center.
An increasing global population, shifts in land use, economic development, global climate change, and rising energy prices have put a strain on the current food production system. These challenges have resulted in major food price swings and uncertainties surrounding global food security. As rice and wheat yields have plateaued in recent years, new and innovative ways of increasing yield and improving water and nutrient use efficiency need to be actualized.
To sustainably produce food and feedstocks to meet the rising demand, crops need to be both higher yielding and more efficient. C3 crops such as rice and wheat are inefficient under hot and dry conditions. Through a series of adaptations, C4 photosynthesis has evolved as a more efficient method of carbon fixation than C3 photosynthesis. The engineering of C4 photosynthesis traits into less productive C3 crops is one approach to solving global food and bioenergy issues. To accomplish such goals, it will be necessary to achieve a better understanding of the biology that drives C4photosynthesis. In addition, a better understanding of C4 photosynthesis would inform breeders and synthetic biologists of possible ways of improving C4 crops. The challenge is not food vs. fuel, it is food and fuel.
To read more on Tony’s research at the Center, visit his full guest blog here.
More recently, a team of scientists led by Thomas Brutnell, Ph.D., director of the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels at the Danforth Center have developed a new way of identifying genes that are important for photosynthesis in maize, and in rice. Their research helps to prioritize candidate genes that can be used for crop improvement and revealed new pathways and information about how plants fix carbon. The findings, published in “Comparative analyses of C4 and C3 photosynthesis in developing leaves of maize and rice,” on October 12, 2014 in Nature Biotechnology, also made public a mathematical model enabling access to datasets comparing C4 photosynthesis traits in plants like maize to C3 photosynthesis in plants like rice.
“Our research focuses on understanding complex network interactions in grasses with a goal of engineering C4 traits into C3 grasses which can be translated into crops that impact the supply of food and fuel,” said Brutnell. “The technologies that our team developed to identify regulatory genes that enhance photosynthesis in C4 crops can be extended to identify control points for other processes including nitrogen and phosphate efficiency as well as a plant’s response to environmental stresses like heat and drought.”
The Danforth Center has expanded their portfolio over the years by studying model C4 grasses to improve the quality, yield and biomass of emerging bioenergy feedstocks such as miscanthus and switchgrass and that can be applied to improve food security and major cereal crops.
For more information on the recent publication, view the release here.
| wheatTom Brutnellricemodel plantsmodel cropsGuest BloggerfuelFoodEnterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuelsc4 grasses