Log out
My profile and settings
My bookmarks
Comment history
Please complete your account verification. Resend verification email.
today
This verification token has expired.
today
Your email address has been verified. Update my profile.
today
Your account has been deactivated. Sign in to re-activate your account.
today
View all newsletters in the newsletter archive
today
You are now unsubscribed from receiving emails.
today
Sorry, we were unable to unsubscribe you at this time.
today
0
0
Back to profile
Comment Items
You have not left any comments yet.
title
in reply to
name
description
Saved Posts
You haven’t bookmarked any posts yet.
“Jaws is nothing compared with the flying terror that is a mosquito.”
read more
Become a Gates Notes Insider
Sign up
Personal Information
Title
Mr
Mrs
Ms
Miss
Mx
Dr
Cancel
Save
This email is already registered
Cancel
Save
Please verify email address. Click verification link sent to this email address or resend verification email.
Cancel
Save
Address
Cancel
Save
Email and Notification Settings
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
On
Off
Send me Gates Notes survey emails
On
Off
Send me the weekly Top of Mind newsletter
On
Off
Email me comment notifications
On
Off
On-screen comment notifications
On
Off
Interests
Select interests to personalize your profile and experience on Gates Notes.
Saving Lives
Energy Innovation
Improving Education
Alzheimer's
Philanthropy
Book Reviews
About Bill Gates
Account Deactivation
Click the link below to begin the account deactivation process.
If you would like to permanently delete your Gates Notes account and remove it’s content, please send us a request here.
Light meals
Tuning up photosynthesis to feed the world
Fixing flaws in photosynthesis could help boost productivity of our most important crops.
|
0

At some point in school, you probably learned about photosynthesis—how plants use energy from sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into food. This remarkable process is responsible for virtually all life on Earth, providing us with the energy we need and the oxygen we breathe.

But you might not have heard that photosynthesis has some flaws.

It turns out that plants are quite inefficient when it comes to using the sun’s energy. Just a fraction of the sunlight shining on a plant ends up fueling its growth, which means our crops are producing far less food than they could be.

An international group of researchers is aiming to fix that by giving photosynthesis a tune up. If successful, their research is expected to double the productivity of some of our most important crops—like rice, maize, cowpea, soybeans, and cassava.

That would be a much-needed breakthrough because the world is facing a crisis at the dinner table. With a growing population and changes in diets—like a greater demand for more meat as people earn higher incomes—we’ll need to produce 60 to 70 percent more food by 2050. At the same time, climate change is putting additional stresses on our food supply because of erratic rainfall, severe droughts, and the spread of pests and crop diseases.

Those who are at greatest risk of hunger in the years ahead are the world’s poorest people. They live in regions with high population growth and often rely on farming both to feed their families and to earn an income.

No single solution will solve this global food crisis. We’ll need to develop innovations in all areas of agriculture to increase productivity. Improved seed varieties for crops that are resistant to drought, flood, pests, and disease. Better data to help farmers manage their crops and livestock more efficiently. And some game-changing discoveries that will lead to bigger harvests.

That’s why our foundation along with the U.S. Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and the U.K. Government's Department for International Development is investing in the global effort to make photosynthesis more efficient. This research program, known as Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency or RIPE, is being led by the University of Illinois.

RIPE scientists began their research by modeling the entire 170-step chemical process of turning sunlight into energy. Using computer simulations, they explored which changes might lead to the biggest increases in productivity—in the same way an efficiency expert might make improvements to a car production line to maximize output.

One promising area of research involves making plants absorb sunlight more effectively. While light is essential for a plant’s survival, too much high-intensity light can cause damage to the plant. To protect themselves, plants have developed mechanisms to siphon off some of the sun’s energy as heat when they are in direct sunlight. But this creates a problem when the sun goes behind a cloud and the plant is in the shade. The plant’s protective mechanism doesn’t adjust quickly to the reduced light, inhibiting the process of photosynthesis for minutes or sometimes hours. RIPE researchers discovered a way to speed up this transition, allowing the plant to continue with photosynthesis even with light fluctuations.

Tuning up photosynthesis to feed the world

Another critical area of research involves an enzyme known as Rubisco, which captures carbon dioxide and turns it into sugars for the plant. Some researchers are working to speed up Rubisco activity in the plant, which would result in higher crop productivity.

Other researchers are trying to fix an inefficiency created by Rubisco: It has a hard time distinguishing carbon dioxide from oxygen. So, about 20 percent of the time Rubisco accidently grabs an oxygen molecule instead of a carbon dioxide molecule. This results in the creation of a compound that must be recycled by the plant through a process known as photorespiration. Photorespiration is long and complicated, costing a plant energy and resources that it could use for growth. To solve this, researchers have engineered an alternative pathway to drastically shorten the photorespiration process and save energy. When tested in the lab, this fix boosted plant growth by up to 40 percent.

Much of the field testing of these improvements to photosynthesis has been done using tobacco plants. While tobacco plants are not food crops, they are a convenient proof-of-concept crop because they are easy to transform genetically and they produce a large amount of seed, shortening testing cycles. In the next phase of research, scientists are working to transfer these new genetic traits to food crops, including cowpea, cassava, and soybeans.

Still, these high yielding crops are years away from being grown on farms around the world. And they would need to pass safety tests to gain consumer acceptance. I’m excited about the progress made by the RIPE team and I look forward to hearing more about their discoveries in the future.

Read this next
NEXT
Comments
posting ...
Please verify your email in order to make comments. Click here to resend verification email
Sorry, duplicate comments are not allowed. 
Sorry, that HTML is not allowed. 
Sorry, something went wrong. 
In order to comment you must be a Gates Notes Insider. Please sign up or log in to continue. 
Be the first to leave a comment.
Comment Locked
Comments more than 2 months old are locked. For more information, contact us.
Report
Delete Comment?
Deleting this comment will remove replies to this comment by you and others as well. This action cannot be undone.
Delete Comment
Why do you want to report this comment?
It's annoying or not interesting
It's abusive and/or vulgar
It's spam
Report Comment
Your report has been submitted.
Close
Save
Cancel
Thanks for visiting the Gates Notes.
We'd like your feedback. Yes, I'll take the survey No thanks
Become a Gates Notes Insider
Join the Gates Notes community to access exclusive content, comment on stories, participate in giveaways, and more.
SIGN UP
Already joined?
Log in
Logout:


Become a Gates Notes Insider
Become a Gates Notes Insider
Join the Gates Notes community to access exclusive content, comment on stories, participate in giveaways, and more.
Already joined? Log in
LOG IN
SIGN UP
Use your social account:
Or sign up with email:
Title
Mr
Mrs
Ms
Miss
Mx
Dr
This email is already registered. Enter a new email, try signing in or retrieve your password
Why are we collecting this information? Gates Notes may send a welcome note or other exclusive Insider mail from time to time. Additionally, some campaigns and content may only be available to users in certain areas. Gates Notes will never share and distribute your information with external parties.
Bill may send you a welcome note or other exclusive Insider mail from time to time. We will never share your information.
Sign up
We will never share or spam your email address. For more information see our Sign Up FAQ. By clicking "Sign Up" you agree to the Gates Notes Terms of Use / Privacy Policy.
Street address
City
postal_town
State Zip code
administrative_area_level_2
Country
Data
Gates Notes Insider Sign Up FAQ

Q. How do I create a Gates Notes account?

A. There are three ways you can create a Gates Notes account:

  • Sign up with Facebook. We’ll never post to your Facebook account without your permission.
  • Sign up with Twitter. We’ll never post to your Twitter account without your permission.
  • Sign up with your email. Enter your email address during sign up. We’ll email you a link for verification.

Q. Will you ever post to my Facebook or Twitter accounts without my permission?

A. No, never.

Q. How do I sign up to receive email communications from my Gates Notes account?

A. In Account Settings, click the toggle switch next to “Send me updates from Bill Gates.”

Q. How will you use the Interests I select in Account Settings?

A. We will use them to choose the Suggested Reads that appear on your profile page.

BACK
Forgot your password?
Enter the email you used to sign up and a reset password link will be sent to you.
This email is already registered. Enter a new email, try signing in or retrieve your password
Reset Password
Reset your password.
Set New Password
Your password has been reset. Please continue to the log in page.
Log in
Get emails from Bill Gates
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
On
Off
Email me comment notifications
On
Off
On-screen comment notifications
On
Off
This email is already registered
Finish
We will never share or spam your email address. For more information see our Sign up FAQ. By clicking "Continue" you agree to the Gates Notes Terms of Use / Privacy Policy.
You're in!
You're in!
Please check your email and click the link provided to verify your account.
Didn't get an email from us? Resend verification email
Upload a profile picture
Choose image to upload
Uploading...
Uh Oh!
The image you are trying to upload is either too big or is an unacceptable format. Please upload a .jpg or .png image that is under 25MB.
Ok
Title
Mr
Mrs
Ms
Miss
Mx
Dr
Cancel
Save
This email is already registered
Cancel
Save
Please verify email address. Click verification link sent to this email address or resend verification email.
Email and notification settings
Send me updates from Bill Gates
You must provide an email
On
Off
Email me comment notifications
On
Off
On-screen comment notifications
On
Off
Select your interests
Saving Lives
Energy Innovation
Improving Education
Alzheimer's
Philanthropy
Book Reviews
About Bill Gates
Finish
Confirm Account Deactivation
Are you sure you want to deactivate your account?
Deactivating your account will unsubscribe you from Gates Notes emails, and will remove your profile and account information from public view on the Gates Notes. Please allow for 24 hours for the deactivation to fully process. You can sign back in at any time to reactivate your account and restore its content.
Deactivate My Acccount
Go Back
Your Gates Notes account has been deactivated.
Come back anytime.
Welcome back
In order to unsubscribe you will need to sign-in to your Gates Notes Insider account
Once signed in just go to your Account Settings page and set your subscription options as desired.
Sign In
Request account deletion
We’re sorry to see you go. Your request may take a few days to process; we want to double check things before hitting the big red button. Requesting an account deletion will permanently remove all of your profile content. If you’ve changed your mind about deleting your account, you can always hit cancel and deactivate instead.
Submit
Cancel
Thank You! Your request has been sent