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Researchers discover plant enzymes that can boost wheat yields

FBR Staff Writer Published 01 February 2016

Researchers at Lancaster University and Rothamsted Research and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have claimed that a naturally occurring plant enzyme called Rubisco can enhance photosynthesis and in turn increase wheat crop yield.

wheat enzyme resarch

The scientists measured photosynthesis in 25 genotypes of wheat which included distantly related species of bread wheat and found that variation existed even among the closely related genotypes.

Each type was examined to identify superior Rubisco enzymes in order to boost photosynthesis.

The study found that two of the Rubisco from plants Aegilops cylindrica (jointed goatgrass) and Hordeum vulgare (barley), showed promising Rubisco catalytic characteristics that could be explored further to boost photosynthesis and thereby grain yield in wheat.

The models indicate that the inclusion of the new enzymes into wheat may result in improved photosynthesis by around 20% in certain field conditions.

The latest work by the research team was published in Journal of Experimental Botany.

Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC) Professor Martin A. J. Parry said: "Improving the efficiency of photosynthesis - the way crops turn carbon dioxide in our atmosphere into everything we can eat - may seem ambitious but for us it offers the best opportunity for producing the scale of change in crop yield that we need to feed a growing global population in a changing world climate."

LEC researcher Dr Elizabete Carmo-Silva said: "Both jointed grass and barley are regarded as valuable genetic resources for improving wheat disease resistance, our research suggests that they can also be used to improve biomass production."

The experiment was conducted by two research associates Dr Anneke Prins and Dr Douglas Orr. The work was financially backed by CIMMYT along with subcontract to the University of Illinois, under the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation award Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE).

LEC's Dr Douglas Orr said: "This is an exciting piece of work showing that Rubisco catalytic properties vary in close relatives of wheat. As part of the RIPE project we are screening a wide range of species from across the globe, and aim to identify variation that will enable improving photosynthesis and biomass production in rice, cassava and soybean."

Wheat is an important source of food, with more than 20% of its calories consumed across the world. With the projections over world population set to reach over nine billion by 2050, the need of the hour is to meet global demands for food.


Image: Scientists seek to increase wheat crop yield with experimentation. Photo: Courtesy of Lancaster University.