Traditional plant breeding has boosted yields of popular crops considerably, but the gains have stagnated at less than 1% per year because plant growth is now limited by the efficiency of photosynthesis itself. Researchers have contemplated streamlining an aspect of photosynthesis called photoprotection, in which plants guard themselves from bright light at the cost of reducing photosynthesis in the shade. Now, plant biologists have cleverly manipulated plants to adjust more quickly to shade. These genetically engineered tobacco plants had up to 20% more biomass. The big question is whether similar manipulations in food crops will mean more consumable yield. Boosting photosynthesis could help researchers answer critics of plant biotechnology who note that genetically modified plants have not boosted harvests.
Author: Erik Stokstad