Science

Scientists discover new gene to boost crop yields

PTI Washington | Updated on January 27, 2013 Published on January 27, 2013

Scientists have discovered a new gene that could lead to new varieties of staple crops with 50 per cent higher yields, which they say could quell hunger in many countries.

The gene discovered by Cornell University researchers could quell the ever-growing challenge of feeding more humans, whose numbers are likely to bloat to 9.5 billion by 2050, with the same amount of water, fertilisers and arable land available today, scientists say.

Called Scarecrow, the gene is the first discovered to control a special leaf structure, known as Kranz anatomy, which leads to more efficient photosynthesis.

Plants photosynthesise using one of the two methods: C3, a less efficient, ancient method found in most plants, including wheat and rice; and C4, a more efficient adaptation employed by grasses, maize, sorghum and sugarcane that is better suited to drought, intense sunlight, heat and low nitrogen.

“Researchers have been trying to find the underlying genetics of Kranz anatomy so we can engineer it into C3 crops,” said Thomas Slewinski, lead researcher of the study, published in the journal Plant and Cell Physiology.

The finding “provides a clue as to how this whole anatomical key is regulated,” Turgeon said in a statement.

“There’s still a lot to be learned, but now the barn door is open and you are going to see people working on this Scarecrow pathway.

“The promise of transferring C4 mechanisms into C3 plants has been fervently pursued and funded on a global scale for decades,” he added.

If C4 photosynthesis is successfully transferred to C3 plants through genetic engineering, farmers could grow wheat and rice in hotter, dryer environments with less fertiliser, while possibly increasing the yields by half, the researchers said.

The C3 photosynthesis originated at a time in Earth’s history when the atmosphere had a high proportion of carbon dioxide. C4 plants have independently evolved from C3 plants some 60 times at different times and places.

Published on January 27, 2013
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