The discovery of C4 photosynthesis at a Brisbane sugar refinery 50 years ago spawned a whole new field of plant biology and is now well on the way to feeding the world.
[caption id=attachment_8867 align=alignright width=300] Professors Bob Furbank and Susanne von Caemmerer are two of the scientists involved in creating ‘supercharged’ rice to feed the world. Credit: James Walsh, ANU[/caption]
Three billion people rely on rice for survival, but C4 plants like maize and sugarcane grow faster, have higher yields, and are more drought-tolerant.
“C4 plants photosynthesise faster thanks to a biochemical ‘supercharger’ which concentrates CO2 in specialised structures in their leaves,” says Professor Bob Furbank from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis.
“If we can modify rice to use the C4 pathway, instead of C3, we can improve rice production and double its water efficiency.”
In 2015, the first rice plant to contain the five genes necessary for C4 photosynthesis was created at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines.
The discovery of C4 photosynthesis by Hal Hatch and Roger Slack 50 years ago could soon help feed the world.
To speed up the evolution of rice from C3 to its C4 form, the researchers take genes from maize, splice them into the rice genome, then cross breed the rice until they get the combinations required to trigger the C4 pathway.
It’s a task that involves 12 institutions in eight countries, including Bob, who is a plant biologist, and his colleague Professor Susanne von Caemmerer, who has a background in mathematics.
[caption id=attachment_8871 align=alignright width=295] Specialised cells (called bundle sheath cells) inside a C4 plant leaf (bottom) trap CO2 and allow it to photosynthesise more efficiently than a C3 plant like rice (top). Credit: International Rice Research Institute[/caption]
“What I love about this project is that it has unified researchers from different fields for a common, and very worthy cause,” says Susanne.
“It’s also grabbed the attention of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who’ve just renewed our funding for the third time.”
The ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis is holding a Conference to celebrate 50 years of C4 photosynthesis the discovery and innovation in Canberra in April.
For more information: Natalia Bateman, ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis firstname.lastname@example.org
Banner image credit : International Rice Research Institute
Many scientists are exploring the use of videos and video blogs (vlogs) for science communication. I asked Claire Hopkins, creator of the Brilliant Botany videos and website, how she got started making science videos and if she has any advice for getting started in science communication. Here are her replies
This is cool - Arabidopsis is one of a small number of plants that do not form myocorrhizal symbioses. A new study finds that an endophytic fungus that is normally pathogenic enhances P uptake in Arabidopsis. The paper also explores the molecular interactions between host and pathogenic / beneficial fungus
Lineages of all known species on Earth are finally pieced together
Mary Williams's insight:
This is great - the inner circles are known species, and the outer circle shows the estimated relative of proportion of each type of organism (plants are truly dwarfed by those arthropods and bacteria!)
"Since becoming commercially available in 1996, crops that produce Bt toxins have been widely adopted, and more than 420 million hectares have been planted around the world2. However, insect resistance quickly emerged as a major threat to the long-term success of such crops2. In a paper online in Nature, Badran et al.3 present an elegant method for the continuous evolution of engineered Bt toxins, and describe a toxin that targets a new receptor on insect cells and thus overcomes existing resistance."
The paper, "Continuous evolution of Bacillus thuringiensis toxins overcomes insect resistance" is here:
Thanks so much to everyone who completed my little poll on how much science faculty lecture, and why. I conducted the poll because of my admittedly-anecdotal sense that much of the vigorous online debate about how to teach--in particular, whether to lecture--is a bit disconnected from the practical decision-making of many faculty. The online discussions…
Mary Williams's insight:
Useful survey and discussion from Jeremy Fox, University of Calgary
Tardigrades, endearing eight legged minibeasts related to insects and spiders and also known as water bears or moss piglets, are among my favourite animals. In late November 2015, a colleague, Bob …
Mary Williams's insight:
Very intereting first-person account about what it's like to correct someone else's high-profile paper. The way science is communicated and shared is changing and it's important to keep up with those changes. Encourage your students to read this and think about the take-away messages.
Agriculture has a math problem. To feed an extra two billion people by 2050—the equivalent of six more United States—the world will need to increase crop production by 70% to 100%. But yield gains have slowed to just 1% a year, and the technology farmers rely on for those meager gains, such as pesticides, cause problems of their own.
The plant microbiome evolved with the plant over millions of years until modern technology systematically decimated them. A Cambridge-based startup called Indigo, which announced a $56-million funding round today, thinks the solution may lie in probiotics for plants. By dosing seeds in healthy microbes, farmers can grow as much as 10% more food, and as the technology develops, yields may increase even more.
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