The role of bioengineering in increasing crop yields

"Considering ONU’s report, which states that the state of food security and nutrition in the world this year has been worsening and eclipsing all other threats to global health at scale, while it was found that in 2021 almost 10% of the world's population suffers from hunger, makes the results of the bioengineering study of greater importance."
Por Clarisa Benavides
Aug 30, 2022

After a decade of studies, researchers achieved their goal and have demonstrated that multigenic bioengineering of photosynthesis increases the yield of a major food crop in field trials. 

The work was conducted by a collaborative team led by the University of Illinois, and involved the transgenic alteration of soybean plants to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis, resulting in higher yields, without loss of quality.

Considering ONU’s report, which states that the state of food security and nutrition in the world this year has been worsening and eclipsing all other threats to global health at scale, while it was found that in 2021 almost 10% of the world’s population suffers from hunger; makes the results of the bioengineering study of greater importance.

With the team’s goal being to obtain higher photosynthetic efficiency, it aims to help increase global food production by improving photosynthetic efficiency in food crops for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Food and Agriculture Foundation. Research and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Amanda De Souza, project researcher, commented that:

“The number of people affected by food insufficiency continues to grow, and projections clearly show that there needs to be a change in the level of food supply to change the trajectory.””Our research shows an effective way to contribute to food security for the people who need it most, while preventing more land being put into production. Improving photosynthesis is a great opportunity to get the needed jump in yield potential.”

Photosynthesis, being a natural process for plants to convert sunlight into energy and yield, but with more than 100 steps, makes the researchers’ work inefficient.

Therefore, they improved the VPZ construct within the soybean plant to enhance photosynthesis and field trials were conducted to see if it would increase yield. 

The VPZ construct contains three genes that encode proteins of the xanthophyll cycle (pigment cycle that aids in plant photoprotection). Upon exposure to the sun, the cycle is activated in the leaves to protect them from damage, and allows them to dissipate excess energy. However, when the leaves are shaded, the photoprotection is turned off to continue the photosynthesis process with a reserve of sunlight. This protection mechanism takes several minutes, representing loss times that could be used for photosynthesis.



Considering that overexpression of the three VPZ construct genes accelerates the process, and that as the leaf moves into the shade, the photoprotection shuts down faster, additional minutes of photosynthesis are obtained that, added over the growing season, increase the total photosynthetic rate. 

The research achieved a more than 20% increase in yield while maintaining seed quality and protein content.

Based on the previous news and with Piore’s (2018) book “The Body Builders: Inside the Science of the Engineered Human”, which states that the field of “bioengineering”, used by scientists, doctors and sometimes patients, has unlocked the resilience of human bodies, and even human minds, being something that previous generations could only guess existed. We can conclude that by modifying processes such as photosynthesis, we can have a high impact, optimizing processes, making them more efficient, and in this case, allowing us to solve world problems by improving yields to increase food production in major crops.

Referencias:

Amanda P. De Souza, Steven J. Burgess, Lynn Doran, Jeffrey Hansen, Lusya Manukyan, Nina Maryn, Dhananjay Gotarkar, Lauriebeth Leonelli, Krishna K. Niyogi, Stephen P. Long. La fotosíntesis de la soja y el rendimiento de los cultivos mejoran al acelerar la recuperación de la fotoprotección. Ciencia , 2022; 377 (6608): 851 DOI: 10.1126/ciencia.adc9831

Piore, A. (2018). The Body Builders: Inside the Science of the Engineered Human (Reprint ed.). Ecco.

Clarisa Benavides

Clarisa Benavides

Science & Technology writer in The Bookish Man.
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