Friday, August 7, 2015

An Innovation that Increases Food Production by Hacking Photosynthesis

An Innovation that Increases Food Production by Hacking Photosynthesis

By hacking photosynthesis processes in plants, scientists are working to increase crop yields without using more resources.

With human populations continuing to grow and with the amount of arable land steadily running out, scientists are trying to figure out innovations on how to increase crop yields without consuming more resources. According to a recent article in Gizmodo, some researchers are thinking about how to hack a process called photosynthesis in order to grow more food.

As anyone knows who remembers their high school biology class, photosynthesis is a process that most plants use to convert the sun’s energy into chemical energy, i.e. sugars. The problem is that plants are very inefficient solar collectors, converting only a few percent of the photons they receive into biomass. However, in theory,   that amount can be boosted to 12 percent.

Thus far, scientists have only achieved some success in creating more light efficient algae used to create biofuel. However, there is no reason higher plants cannot also be engineered in the same way. Techniques being considered include creating more efficient light gathering pigments to finding ways for plants to absorb a wider spectrum of light than they currently are able to do.

Another substance that plants absorb to create biomass is carbon dioxide. Here too, the efficiency of plants to absorb CO2 can be boosted. A happy side effect would be that more of that greenhouse gas will be absorbed into plants and be used to create biomass and oxygen.

The third method that scientists are looking at to improve plant efficiency is a concept called “smart canopies.” Because of evolution’s survival of the fittest, some plants tend to block access to sunlight for others. Creating plants that share more sunlight with other plants would go a long way toward increasing their yields, without consuming more resources.

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