Better photosynthesis increases yields in food crops, research shows

30-08-2022 | |
Harvesting soybean in Wisconsin, United States. - Photo: Henk Riswick
Harvesting soybean in Wisconsin, United States. - Photo: Henk Riswick

RIPE researchers have proven that multigene bioengineering of photosynthesis increases the yield of a major food crop in field trials.

A collaborative team led by the University of Illinois has transgenically altered soybean plants to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis, resulting in greater yields without loss of quality.

Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency, or RIPE, is an international research project that aims to increase global food production by improving photosynthetic efficiency in food crops.

Photosynthesis surprisingly inefficient

Photosynthesis, the natural process all plants use to convert sunlight into energy and yield, is a surprisingly inefficient 100+ step process that RIPE researchers have been working to improve for more than a decade. The group managed to improved the VPZ construct (see box below this article) within the soybean plant to improve photosynthesis and then conducted field trials to see if yield would be improved as a result.

Also read: New insights about photosynthesis could improve crop yields

Tobacco plants

The researchers first tested their idea in tobacco plants because of the ease of transforming the crop’s genetics and the amount of seeds that can be produced from a single plant. These factors allow researchers to go from genetic transformation to a field trial within months. Once the concept was proven in tobacco, they moved into the more complicated task of putting the genetics into a food crop, soybeans.

The research has shown that despite achieving a more than 20% increase in yield, seed quality was not impacted. Despite higher yield, seed protein content was unchanged.

Additional field tests of these transgenic soybean plants are being conducted this year, with results expected in early 2023.

Hugo Claver Web editor for Future Farming