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Ray of Hope for More Abundant Wheat Crops

07:45 EDT 21 Aug 2017 | Meridian Institute

New research from Lancaster University, United Kingdom, shows that crops such as wheat could be up to 21 percent more efficient at turning the sun’s energy into food. Currently, when a leaf returns to full sunlight after a period of time in the shade, it takes some time before photosynthesis regains peak efficiency - meaning valuable energy from the sun is wasted. The team used infra-red gas analyzers to determine that wheat was absorbing 21 percent less carbon dioxide over the course of the day due to this slow adjustment. Steve Long, a plant scientist at the Lancaster Environment Center (LEC), said, "This is a very significant loss. The next step is to seek out varieties of wheat which respond quickly to this increase in sunlight availability. We could potentially harness this trait and breed it into our modern wheat varieties to increase our harvests." The team found the most important factor in the delayed response was the speed at which activation of Rubisco - the enzyme used by all plants to catalyze carbon dioxide uptake - recovered in full sunlight. Dr. Elizabete Carmo-Silva, who is a world expert on the activation of Rubisco, said, "Until now, we knew that Rubisco activation in response to fluctuating light was limiting wheat photosynthetic potential but had little idea it could be quite this important to crop productivity. Continuing research at LEC is investigating natural variability in the efficiency of Rubisco in different types of wheat and wild wheat relatives. This variation is likely to be exploitable to develop new varieties of wheat that will help address the need to increase yield and sustainability on the land we are already using."

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