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More Productive Plants

Researchers have altered the photosynthetic pathway in a plant model to make it more efficient, NPR reports.

Using tobacco as a model, the University of Illinois' Amanda Cavanagh and her colleagues altered a detoxification step that some plants have to rid themselves of toxic compounds, it adds. Cavanagh tells NPR that these toxic compounds arise because Rubisco, the protein that grabs carbon dioxide from the air for plants to use in photosynthesis, sometimes picks up things that aren't carbon dioxide like oxygen She adds that this detoxification step then makes these plants less efficient.

As Cavanagh and her colleagues report in Science, they tested three alternative photorespiratory pathways in tobacco by introducing genes from E. coli, algae, or other plants, while also down regulating the native pathway. They found that the alternative photorespiratory pathway based on a plant malate synthase and a green algal glycolate dehydrogenas could increase tobacco productivity by 40 percent.

But, Agence France Presse notes that the approach isn't yet ready for use on an industrial scale as it would need to be adapted to other plants and climates. "I do think these kind of plants will reach the market at one point, but it is a very long way," adds North Carolina State University Heike Sederoff at Technology Review.