Algae enzyme to ‘turbo-charge’ wheat

Switching the Rubisco enzyme in crops could drive improved yields and reduce the need for fertilizers, claim the researchers

A blue-green algae enzyme could drive plant crop productivity up by 50%, claim scientists from Rothamsted Research.

The team said the enzyme increased productivity by optimizing photosynthesis.

Using genetic modification, the crop’s inherent Rubisco enzyme (which is responsible for converting carbon dioxide (CO2) into sugars during photosynthesis) is replaced with the more efficient cyanobacterial Rubisco enzyme found in algae.

Trials had begun on tobacco plants, but Professor Martin Parry said the method could ultimately be used to ‘turbo-charge’ photosynthesis in plant crops like wheat.

“Wheat yields in the UK in recent years have reached a plateau. In order to increase yields in a sustainable manner in the future, we need to look at a variety of approaches that include changes within the plant as well as in terms of the surrounding environment of the plant,” he told Milling & Grains.

Fast and furious: Boosting yields and reducing fertilizers

The cyanobacterial enzyme in blue-green algae was faster and more efficient at harnessing sugar and energy for photosynthesis and requires less CO2 than Rubisco found in crop plants, Parry said.

“Rubisco is the key CO2 fixing enzyme in photosynthesis but different types of plant vary in their catalytic properties. Algal Rubiscos and Rubiscos from wild plants occurring in drought environments have catalytic rates and specificities that are predicted to improve photosynthetic capacity in plant crops.”

The team at Rothamsted had demonstrated that plant crops could carry out photosynthesis using the faster cyanobacterial enzyme, with the potential to not only boost crop yields but also reduce fertilisers.

“We are truly excited about the findings of this study. Rubisco accounts for around 25% of leaf Nitrogen (N) so an enzyme that was twice as quick could allow N fertiliser amounts to be decreased by over 10%.”

The scientists utilized a process called ‘homologous recombination’ to connect the bacterial DNA to plant DNA and initiate the production of bacterial proteins in the plant chloroplasts, Parry explained.

“We have generated a synthetic version of this enzyme, which encodes the cyanobacterial enzyme but incorporates combinations of the genetic coding sequence which are more commonly used by ‘higher’ (land) plants.”

Wheat hope

The next stage is to combine the ‘faster’ enzyme with a ‘cyanobacterial carbon concentrating mechanism’ (to increase CO2 concentrations for Rubisco) to enable future work on wheat crops, said Parry.

“Changing the chloroplast DNA is a big challenge in most species and is currently not possible for any cereal crop, however if successful it would have major implications for Nitrogen (N) use and sustainability.”

Related News

More than 2,000 tonnes of EU quinoa will be marketed in 2015 - a scale-up driven by a need to cater to demand, says Wageningen UR

EU quinoa plays catch-up with demand

USDA-ARS director: 'Wheat is as genetically diverse as all of us... and we need to take that genetic variation into mind'

Non-GMO soft durum wheat promising for bakers, says USDA-ARS

Wheat quality remains a concern in the UK, but the nitrogen levels in barley are the lowest since records began, according to the AHDB

UK crop quality, oilseed rape damage, sorghum research, Australian productivity

'Long-term sustainable high crop yields require integrated management practices, including the application of K fertilizers,' say researchers

Potassium holds promise for maize in China

Comments (1)

John Medlin - 23 Oct 2014 | 03:26

GMO

Once again the future is not ending, progress breeds paranoia but with research and diligence we can overcome fear because fear itself will be our down downfall.

23-Oct-2014 at 15:26 GMT

Submit a comment

Your comment has been saved

Post a comment

Please note that any information that you supply is protected by our Privacy and Cookie Policy. Access to all documents and request for further information are available to all users at no costs, In order to provide you with this free service, William Reed Business Media SAS does share your information with companies that have content on this site. When you access a document or request further information from this site, your information maybe shared with the owners of that document or information.