GAIN4CROPS reviews strategies to boost crop yields through photosynthetic efficiency

In a recent review article, several members of our GAIN4CROPS project, led by our project coordinator Andreas Weber, delved into cutting-edge research strategies aimed at elevating photosynthetic energy use efficiency. As outlined by the authors, the optimization of photosynthetic efficiency emerges as a pivotal factor capable of catalyzing a sustainable surge in crop yields, synergistically complementing considerations like resource availability, crop management, selection, maintenance costs, and intrinsic yield potential.

In the open-access article “Improving photosynthetic efficiency toward food security: Strategies, advances, and perspectives“, published in the journal Molecular Plant, they recapitulate current research strategies to enhance photosynthetic efficiency. The review sheds light on the challenges posed by photorespiration, a process that significantly diminishes photosynthetic efficiency in C3 plants, resulting in yield losses of approximately 30% or higher. Despite being essential for photosynthesis in an oxygen-rich atmosphere, photorespiration has long been a hurdle for maximizing crop yields.

To mitigate the negative impact of photorespiration, scientists are currently exploring various strategies. One approach involves focusing on specific cellular compartments, such as the chloroplasts and peroxisomes, where critical metabolic activities take place. By doing so, researchers aim to develop methods that facilitate the efficient conversion of 2-phosphoglycolic acid (2PG), a crucial molecule involved in photorespiration, into more beneficial forms. The overarching goal is to fine-tune these cellular processes to boost the plant’s ability to convert light into energy and ultimately augment photosynthetic efficiency, leading to improved crop yields.

The GAIN4CROPS review highlights promising results in increasing crop yields through engineered photorespiration and light harvesting. However, it also emphasizes the need for further research to fully understand the mechanisms behind the observed yield increases. The integration of photorespiratory bypasses with optimized energy dissipation and the exploration of new-to-nature pathways hold immense potential for surpassing current achievements in photosynthetic efficiency.

The review advocates leveraging natural variations in photosynthetic efficiency found in domesticated crops and their wild relatives for breeding strategies. Techniques like genome editing and intra- and interspecific hybridization could be employed to introduce beneficial genetic variants into crops, maximizing the synergistic effects of synthetic and natural approaches.

While progress has been made, unanswered questions persist, necessitating additional experiments and comprehensive analyses. The practical implementation of these strategies also depends on government regulations regarding genetic modification, adding a real-world dimension to these scientific breakthroughs.

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