From Superfoods to Superplants

The Lempert Report
January 05, 2017

I’m not talking about nutrients to make our bodies stronger or healthier, but making the plants themselves supercharged to respond more efficiently to both light and shade through photosynthesis – one of those terms many of us haven’t thought about since high school biology.

University of Illinois plant biologist Steve Long told VOAnews that "It is the driving force behind all of life, arguably, photosynthesis is the most important process on our planet.” But it's surprisingly inefficient, no matter what our high school recollection might be.  

Plants turn sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into food  - that’s photosynthesis. 

With food demand expected to grow by 70 percent by mid-century on a planet that is rapidly warming, researchers have been looking for ways to improve photosynthesis as a way to squeeze more productivity out of each plant.

"We're kind of forced to push our crops to the limit," crop scientist Matthew Reynolds at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, told VOAnews.  

Long's group targeted a system that protects plants from excessive sunlight as reported in the trade journal Science. When a plant is soaking up more light than it can handle, it gets rid of the energy as heat. As clouds or leaves shade it, that system stays on for minutes or hours, slowing down the plant's growth. So Long and his team used genetic engineering to add genes to plants that shortened that recovery time and the modified plants grew up to 20 percent more. 

Perhaps its time to embrace biotechnology for the sake of our global welfare.