Adding high-performing rubiscos into major crops could boost dwindling outputs: Study

By Natalie Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Engineering wheat crops, for example with the most efficient rubiscos could mean they grow more quickly, and with less need for additional fertilisers. ©iStock
Engineering wheat crops, for example with the most efficient rubiscos could mean they grow more quickly, and with less need for additional fertilisers. ©iStock

Related tags: Global food security, Photosynthesis

High-performing rubiscos could be used on major crop species like wheat and soy to improve dwindling farming output, new findings suggest.

The study, published in Plant Physiology​, reviewed rubiscos’ efficiency in 75 plant species, including major crops. Rubiscos is the central enzyme in photosynthesis which enables plants to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

Engineering crops with the most efficient rubiscos could mean they grow more quickly, and with less need for additional fertilisers, said the researchers, led by Dr Douglas Orr at Lancaster University.

“We were able to identify a number of 'superior' rubiscos which modelling suggests could improve photosynthetic efficiency in crops such as wheat and soybean. This provides important information in our efforts to produce more sustainable crops," ​study author Dr Elizabete Carmo-Silva, Lancaster University, added.

Affinity for CO2 was highest in the rice breed Oryza sativa ssp Indica (Asian rice), and CO2/ O2 specificity was high in the grass Poa palustris, photosynthesising at 25°C. The lowest CO2 specificity was found in C4 grasses including E.tef and Panicum (switchgrass), the team said.

In times of climate change, poor crop yields and a rapidly growing population set to hit nine billion by 2050, crop efficiency is vital to global food security and will become more so, the team stressed.

“The threat to global food security of stagnating yields and population growth makes increasing crop productivity a critical goal over the coming decades,”​ the researchers said, adding: “One key target for improving crop productivity and yields is increasing the efficiency of photosynthesis.”

“As the gatekeeper of carbon entry into the biosphere and often acting as the rate-limiting step of photosynthesis, rubisco, the most abundant enzyme on the planet, is an obvious and important target for improving crop photosynthetic efficiency.”

Other recently studied​ methods for increasing crop output include adding zinc oxide nanoparticles to phosphorus rock-based fertilizer.

Rubiscos engineering

soybean field, soy, Copyright fotokostic
The team and consortium are now working on improving crops like soybean and cowpea with the best rubiscos. ©iStock/fotokostic

Photosynthesis modelling shows that direct replacement of native rubisco in a crop, such as soybean, with two high performing rubiscos is possible. It could mean improved photosynthesis in current CO2 levels and a heating environment.

“Analysis of detailed biochemical characterisation alongside sequence information suggests that targeted mutation of key residues or replacement of crop rubisco with superior existing enzymes will aid in efforts to engineer improved carbon assimilation in key crops,”​ the researchers noted.

The Lancaster University-based team and the Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) consortium​ are now working on improving crops like rice, cassava, soybean and cowpea with the best rubiscos.

However, the team could face opposition in the face of the controversial​ topic of genetic modification of crops.

Surviving diverse temperatures

Nanoparticles 2
Other recently studied methods for increasing crop output include adding zinc oxide nanoparticles to phosphorus rock-based fertilizer. ©iStock

One study goal was to characterise properties of rubisco from a range of plant species from diverse environments over the world.

As such, analysis of various plants’ rubisco performance in varying temperatures (20, 25 and 30°C) was important information for engineering crops for specific environments, the team said.

Results were compared to average temperatures of the warmest quarter in the regions where each species grows to investigate the role of temperature in modulating rubisco catalysis.

“The temperature response of the various catalytic parameters was largely consistent across the diverse range of species, though absolute values showed significant variation in Rubisco catalysis, even between closely related species,” ​the team noted.

“An analysis of residue differences amongst the species characterised identified a number of candidate amino acid substitutions that will aid in advancing engineering of improved Rubisco in crop systems.”

There have been relatively few attempts to characterise temperature effects on rubisco’s photosynthesis properties, and often studies have focussed on only a subset of catalytic properties, they added.

“This new information gives us the opportunity to tailor the photosynthetic performance of crops for specific environments,”​ said another study author, professor Martin Parry at Lancaster University.

Source: Plant Physiology

Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1104/pp.16.00750

“Surveying Rubisco diversity and temperature response to improve crop photosynthetic efficiency”

Authors: Douglas Orr, et al.

Related topics: Science, Cereals and bakery preparations

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4 comments

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co2 levels

Posted by Laurel,

as co2 levels rise plants UNtampered with grow better anyway..so whats the point?
profit??? hmm
because many might think some labplant is growing better when truth is its normal co2 increase doing the boosting.
and more veg matter as noted by another?
oh golly and then that stored co2 is released anyway on decomposition or when animals eat is.
im Laughing;-)

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heres an idea

Posted by Laurel,

How about stopping the lies?
novel isn't it?
plants declining yields? really?
normal weather and nutrient and bug loads affect yields certainly
NONE of the GMO modded plants have done anything to IMPROVE YIELD just to slow the odd bug down, before they got immune to the Bt and chem. ditto the weeds.
faffing around at great expense and adding higher costs yet again to farmers for seed supply,is NOT helping at all.
and yes the person quoted about GMO resistant consumers is correct..we do NOT want any more of the crapcrops thanks!
Russias banned GM crops so have other nations, some are limited to cotton and canola..and thats a good thing.
Leave our FOOD ALONE thanks!

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vegetative growth

Posted by pol,

Not being a rubisco specialist:
if the plant has more efficient photosynthesis, does this lead to greater vegetative growth, and if so, does it necessarily mean that the grain yield increases? If the grain yield is only marginally better then the vegetative growth increase will actually be more costly in terms of inputs. Also, if the co2 concentration in the atmosphere is greater in 2050 compared to the concentration today, will the plant need a more efficient rubisco complex?

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