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Roots & Shoots' Guest blogger: Anthony Studer from Dr. Tom Brutnell’s lab at the Danforth Center.
Photosynthesis is an essential biological process that supports life on Earth by converting light energy from the sun into sugars. The carbon dioxide (CO2) used for photosynthesis enters into plant leaves through pores called
Water-use efficiency is an important factor for all crops around the globe, and will be a vital component of sustainable agriculture. Thus, plant biologists must work to develop our knowledge of how plants balance carbon uptake (CO2) with transpirational water loss. Such scientific advancements will enable the development of crops that use less water, while maintaining high yields for food and fuel.
In the lab of Dr. Thomas Brutnell, Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels at the Danforth Center my work focuses on evolution and function of the carbon concentrating mechanism (CCM) in grasses. The CCM evolved in plant species that utilize C4 photosynthesis as their primary mechanism of carbon fixation. C4 grasses are some of the most productive food and bioenergy crops, including corn, sorghum, sugarcane, Miscanthus and switchgrass. The CCM essentially pumps CO2 into the leaf and allows the stomata to close to preserve water, while still maintaining high rates of photosynthesis. By studying the variation in the CCM across species, as well as the diversity within a single species, we are increasing our understanding of the relationship between photosynthesis and transpiration. Mutations were generated in genes central to the CCM of maize, and have been shown to affect the balance of CO2 and water in the leaf. These mutations are important for our research because they may provide us with insight into 1) how plants sense environmental signals that affect the balance of CO2 and water, and 2) how stomatal and photosynthetic processes are regulated. Both of these are key to developing crop plants that can adapt to changing climactic conditions.
By working in grass species, our research has the potential to be quickly translated into improving the sustainability of crops in the field. Our approach is to investigate the genetic bases of the variation in plant physiology that we observe. Understanding the genes controlling these processes will enable the breeding and engineering of more efficient crops. I will continue to work on in this area of research in my new position as an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign starting in May 2015.
To learn more about the impact of water visit the United Nations’ website to celebrate World Water Day on March 22. Throughout the month of March we will focus on how plant science research can help preserve important natural resources like water. View last week’s blog post focused on water for food and fuel.
Get social: @DanforthCenter: 22 March is #WorldWaterDay. Use #WaterIs to share messages about #Water & #Sustainability @UN_Water Follow us on Twitter @DanforthCenter and LIKE us on Facebook to stay up to date with science, research and recent news.
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