Genetically Modifying Photosynthesis Can Increase Crop Yields

Nov 18, 2016

Unmodified tobacco plants in field
Credit Flickr Creative Commons/Guillaume Baviere

Scientists think they have a way to increase crop yields by up to 20% by modifying the process of photosynthesis.  Researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana campus worked with scientists from the University of California-Berkeley to genetically manipulate photosynthesis in tobacco plants.  

U of I crop sciences professor Stephen Long says when plants get more sunlight than they need… they start converting some of that excess light energy into heat.  But Long says when a cloud or other shade comes along… plants are slow to stop that conversion process.

“And what we’ve done is to speed up the rate at which it stops converting that energy to heat.”

Which Long says is done at the genetic level.

“Basically what we’ve done is to add three more copies of genes the plant already has, so that we can produce more of the proteins involved in this relaxation process.”

Long says they’re now testing their research on rice and cowpea… and plan to begin testing it on corn and soybeans in the near future.  He says these GMO crops will likely not be available to farmers for another 15-to-20 years.