The EC-funded project GAIN4CROPS is developing novel disruptive technologies to overcome one of the main constraints on photosynthetic efficiency: photorespiration, a process that reduces CO2 assimilation efficiency, and thus biomass yield and agricultural productivity.
In 5-years our project aims improve the efficiency of the most common photosynthetic metabolism in plants, the C3 metabolism, by following a stepwise approach.
i) First, we will enhance C3 photosynthetic efficiency using a naturally occurring variation of photorespiratory metabolism, in particular C3-C4 intermediate photosynthesis.
ii) then, we will further optimize the process by engineering new-to-nature metabolic pathways by innovative plant breeding techniques. These pathways should not only minimize the photorespiratory losses but also convert photorespiration into a process that supports net photosynthesis, thus, avoiding any detrimental release of CO2.
Caption: Dicot Stem Cross-section – sunflower (Helianthus) – low magnification.
We will validate our findings in a set of model organisms of increasing cellular and anatomical complexity before moving to our final target: the sunflower, a C3 crop that belongs to the Helianthae tribe of the Asteraceae. The capacity to evolve the C3-C4 intermediate and C4 metabolism is already present in the Helianthae, which makes this important oil crop a promising target for a C3- C4 conversion.
Our team of 14 partners (4 research organizations, 6 academic institutions, 1 large industry and 3 SMEs) from 9 different countries across Europe brings together the necessary expertise: computational and system biology, genome editing, plant physiology, etc.
The concepts and strategies developed within GAIN4CROPS will serve as a research and innovation roadmap to attain similarly higher photosynthetic performance in a broad range of C3 crops. Innovative crops might also be a useful tool in the face of climate change and pollution as they can be more climate resilient and have a reduced resource consumption; thus, leading towards a more sustainable agriculture.