An algae protein that could improve crop yields

As a result, plants increased their ability to convert light energy into chemical energy. But, in addition, they also needed much less water to produce higher yields.

UK researchers from the University of Essex in Colchester, they are able to improve the photosynthesis rate and the efficiency in the use of water in tobacco plants modified with a protein present in algae. The new research could point the way forward for crops adapted to drier climates due to climate change.

The technique was applied in the photosynthesis process, the complex process by which plants use sunlight and atmospheric carbon dioxide to produce their own carbohydrates that fuel their growth.

This research, published in the journal Nature Plants, explains how scientists used genetic manipulation processes to increase an already existing enzyme in the tobacco plant, introduce a new enzyme from cyanobacteria and introduce a protein from algae.

As a result, in the new tobacco plants their ability to convert light energy into chemical energy was significantly increased. But, furthermore, to the researchers' surprise, the plants also needed much less water to produce higher yields.

Having tested the concept in tobacco plants, the scientists hope to further refine the technique and adapt it to other crops of greater interest to global food security, such as wheat, rice and horticultural species grown in areas where the availability of water for irrigation is scarce. .

Patricia Lopez-Calcagno, a co-author of the article, said: “The world's population is increasing and that means we need to grow more food. We are also seeing the effects of climate change, a more extreme climate, so we will have more droughts. That means we must make better use of water. We need more crops on the same amount of land and with less water ”.

Importance of the technique used

According to researcher López-Calcagno, solving the same problem through the use of conventional plant breeding techniques could eventually be possible, but it would take many decades and climate change is already present. By introducing a gene from the algae, the researchers were able to take a temporary shortcut that was not available to nature, he said.

Other uses of algae

Algae have shown promise for other photosynthesis uses, including carbon dioxide capture and storage. Research labs are working on the use of algae as a biofuel, as food and as an additive that could reduce methane emissions from livestock.

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