Scientists use synthetic biology to improve crop growth and productivity

A group of researchers from the University of Liverpool have discovered a novel approach to enhance crop growth, addressing a pressing challenge of increasing crop productivity in the face of a changing climate and a growing global population.

As the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) continue to rise worldwide and the population is projected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, Professor Luning Liu’s team utilized synthetic biology and plant engineering techniques to enhance photosynthesis, creating a blueprint that can be applied on a large scale.

Photosynthesis is the process through which plants utilize atmospheric CO2 to produce essential nutrients for growth and to sustain the global ecosystem. The team’s recently published paper elaborates on how they have enhanced Rubisco, a key enzyme found in photosynthesis responsible for converting CO2 into energy. Typically, Rubisco is inefficient and impedes photosynthesis in major crops. However, numerous microorganisms, including bacteria, have developed efficient mechanisms known as “CO2-concentrating mechanisms” to enhance Rubisco.

A team of researchers has successfully utilized nature as inspiration to engineer a faster version of Rubisco, an enzyme found in bacteria, into tobacco plant cells. This modification improves the enzyme’s stability and capacity to convert CO2 into energy, thereby enhancing plant growth. Additionally, the enhanced enzyme could increase the plants’ ability to absorb CO2, thereby contributing to global efforts to combat climate change.

Professor Luning Liu from the University of Liverpool’s Department of Biochemistry and Systems Biology expressed great enthusiasm for this breakthrough. The team’s findings demonstrate a promising pathway for enhancing crop development and production in the face of changing climates and the growing food demands of the world’s population.

This recent study builds upon the team’s previous work to engineer a faster version of Rubisco from bacteria to support plant growth.

The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

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