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Upgrading photosynthesis through genetic engineering

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Ben Richmond | July 1, 2015 | Motherboard

The amount of land dedicated to farming is shrinking, the world’s crop productivity is stagnating, and the population is still growing. What are we going to do about the looming agricultural crisis? An international team of 25 researchers just published a piece in the journal for the Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences that suggests it’s time photosynthesis was upgraded.

According to the authors, we need agricultural productivity to rise by 60 to 120 percent over 2005 levels to meet growing demand for food and other agricultural products like biofuel, yet they say replicating the growth in agricultural yields seen last century is going to take a novel approach.

“The remarkable gains in productivity of the Green Revolution of the late 20th century depended on improving yield potential: i.e., the yield obtained with good nutrition in the absence of pests, diseases, and drought,” the paper states. While the availability of water is still a major limiting factor, “there are few options for dramatically reducing the amount of water required to grow a crop.”

But the researchers see a lot of potential ways, taking from nature’s own toolbox, to make photosynthesis more efficient.

Of course, reworking photosynthesis is going to “call for the introduction of dozens of transgenes —possibly on synthetic chromosomes — and require genetic engineering at an unprecedented scale, as well as public discussion of the costs and benefits of such organisms.”

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