Aussie research could boost crop production
Research led by scientists at the Australian National University (ANU) could lead to improvements in crop production. The study shows a new way to help study and ramp up photosynthesis. The breakthrough is based on revisiting an original strategy in plants. The research looks at rubisco activity — a crucial part of the process according to co-author Professor Spencer Whitney, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis at ANU.
“Rubisco is an enzyme involved in the first step of carbon fixation — it starts the conversion of carbon dioxide into plant sugars. But compared to other enzymes, rubisco is considered a slow, inefficient catalyst. Many enzymes can process hundreds to thousands of molecules per second, but rubisco can only get through two to five cycles per second. For this reason, it’s long been recognised as a good target for improving photosynthesis,” Whitney said.
In plants rubisco is made up of 16 proteins: eight large and eight small subunits. Until now, scientists have only been able to work with one subunit at a time. However, by reapplying the genome design of the bacterial ancestors of chloroplasts, scientists can now experiment with all the components of rubisco simultaneously. This could mean big gains for canola and potato crops in particular.
“This is crucial. To ramp up its activity you have to make changes to all the components. We know we can already tinker with rubisco activity in these crops, so it’s a great place to start,” Whitney said.
Whitney believes that the technology could eventually deliver something much bigger in the future. Findings from the study were published in the journal Plant Cell.
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