Photosynthesis hack needed to feed the world by 2050, report says

March 26, 2015
University of Illinois field trials of various photosynthesis hacks. Credit: Photo by David Drag

Using high-performance computing and genetic engineering to boost the photosynthetic efficiency of plants offers the best hope of increasing crop yields enough to feed a planet expected to have 9.5 billion people on it by 2050, researchers report in the journal Cell.

There has never been a better time to try this, said University of Illinois professor Stephen P. Long, who wrote the report with colleagues from Illinois and the CAS-MPG Partner Institute of Computational Biology in Shanghai.

"We now know every step in the processes that drive in C3 crop such as soybeans and C4 plants such as maize," Long said. "We have unprecedented computational resources that allow us to model every stage of photosynthesis and determine where the bottlenecks are, and advances in will help us augment or circumvent those steps that impede efficiency."

Substantial progress has already been made in the lab and in computer models of photosynthesis, Long said.

"Our lab and others have put a gene from cyanobacteria into crop plants and found that it boosts the photosynthetic rate by 30 percent," he said.

Photosynthetic microbes offer other clues to improving photosynthesis in plants, the researchers report. For example, some bacteria and algae contain pigments that utilize more of the solar spectrum than plant pigments do. If added to plants, those pigments could bolster the plants' access to solar energy.

Some scientists are trying to engineer C4 photosynthesis in C3 plants, but this means altering plant anatomy, changing the expression of many genes and inserting new genes from C4 plants, Long said.

"Another, possibly simpler approach is to add to the C3 chloroplast the system used by blue-green algae," he said. This would increase the activity of Rubisco, an enzyme that catalyzes a vital step of the conversion of into plant biomass. Computer models suggest adding this system would increase photosynthesis as much as 60 percent, Long said.

Computer analyses of the way plant leaves intercept sunlight have revealed other ways to improve photosynthesis. Many plants intercept too much light in their topmost leaves and too little in lower leaves; this probably allows them to outcompete their neighbors, but in a farmer's field such competition is counterproductive, Long said.

Studies headed by U. of I. plant biology professor Donald Ort aim to make plants' upper leaves lighter, allowing more sunlight to penetrate to the light-starved lower leaves. Computer modeling of photosynthesis also shows researchers where the traffic jams occur - the steps that slow the process down and reduce efficiency.

"The computer model predicts that by altering this system by up-regulating some genes and down-regulating others, a 60 percent improvement could be achieved without any additional resource - so 60 percent more carbon could be assimilated for no more nitrogen," Long said.

"The next step is to create an in silico plant to virtually simulate the amazingly complex interactions among biological scales," said U. of I. plant biology professor Amy Marshall-Colon, a co-author on the report. "This type of model is essential to fill current gaps in knowledge and better direct our engineering efforts."

While many scientific, political and regulatory hurdles remain for plants engineered to do a better job of converting the sun's energy into biomass, the work should be undertaken now, Long said.

"If we have a success today, it won't appear in farmers' fields for 15 years at the very earliest," he said. "We have to be doing today what we may need in 30 years."

Explore further: Team models photosynthesis and finds room for improvement

More information: Engineering crop photosynthesis and yield potential to meet the global food demand of 2050, Cell, 2015.

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Shootist
1 / 5 (8) Mar 26, 2015
The Malthusians have been saying the world is one step away from starvation since the 1950s. Like Peak Oil: Hogwash then. Hogwash now.

Such prognostications are only about gathering and keeping power.
MP3Car
5 / 5 (5) Mar 26, 2015
I think "NEEDED by 2050" is likely an exaggeration. I know people die all over the world from lack of food and proper nutrition, but i also know it isn't just because of inefficient photosynthesis... That being said... We still need to think about things that may be real concerns a few hundred or even 1,000 years from now. We have advantages that could help people 1,000 years from now that people 1,000 years before us did not have - much more knowledge of life, science, computational power, etc... I have seen articles saying we may run out of oil around 2050. Even if that's wrong, suppose it's 2100... Many young children today will still be here then. We need to be working as hard as possible to help make the world livable for them, and more importantly, for their grandchildren.
howhot2
2.5 / 5 (2) Mar 27, 2015
Soylent Green! It's coming sooner than you think!
rfw
5 / 5 (4) Mar 27, 2015
So we "need" to feed 9.5 billion by 2050... If we are successful, then what? The 9.5 billion will reproduce. Then how many will we "need" to feed??? (and what will be their effect on mama ecosystem?) This is a Stuck-On-Stupid approach. Better to find ways to effectively reduce the number of featherless bipeds and rebalance the planetary ecosystem.
gkam
2 / 5 (4) Mar 27, 2015
"Such prognostications are only about gathering and keeping power."
-------------------------------------

And you know that how? Is it because that is what YOU would do?
ryggesogn2
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 27, 2015
End socialism first.
Socialism limits all as Zimababwe, Cuba, USSR, DPRK, France, USA, demonstrate.
New Zealand limited or eliminated all govt subsidies and their ag sector boomed.
MP3Car
4 / 5 (5) Mar 27, 2015
I have to admit, I wish there was more "encouragement" in countries to only have two children... In the US, for example, the government could do away with additional exemptions and child tax credits for kids beyond a quantity of two... Instead, in many circles here in the US, it's almost encouraged to have many (3+) children. I know several families of 4+ kids... Some people claim it's the work of God for each child they have... I think it's the work of selfish parents with no regard to the world 500-1,000+ years from now... I'll probably catch some flame for this and get some 1-stars, but oh well, it's my personal opinion...
gkam
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 27, 2015
ryggy, tell us you favorite Libertarian government.

There are none. Know why? Advanced selfishness only goes so far. It usually ends in childhood.
ryggesogn2
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 27, 2015
I have to admit, I wish there was more "encouragement" in countries to only have two children... In the US, for example, the government could do away with additional exemptions and child tax credits for kids beyond a quantity of two... Instead, in many circles here in the US, it's almost encouraged to have many (3+) children. I know several families of 4+ kids... Some people claim it's the work of God for each child they have... I think it's the work of selfish parents with no regard to the world 500-1,000+ years from now... I'll probably catch some flame for this and get some 1-stars, but oh well, it's my personal opinion...

More socialism is not the answer.

What data does anyone have to show that top down socialist policies increase food production, or that top down, socialist population control policies improve the lives of others?

Where the state limits power, the people flourish.
gkam
2.7 / 5 (7) Mar 27, 2015
Ryggy, show us that wonderful libertarian government, where everybody builds his own house, makes his own electricity and constructs his own roads. Show us that magical place.
ryggesogn2
2.1 / 5 (7) Mar 27, 2015

"We don't have to understand how markets work to thrive within them any more than we need to memorize Gray's Anatomy in order to stay alive. The question is why we might not just fail to appreciate the workings and results of capitalism, but be inclined to condemn it.

According to evolutionary psychology, our minds were mostly formed in that very very long period when we lived as hunter-gatherers, in groups of perhaps at most 150 people, when there was no extensive commerce, little division of labour, and no voluntary employment; when working for others meant literally being a slave. And when there was no technological advance, no money, and no economic growth.

I believe that we are still haunted by the assumptions of such a world, and thus easily confuse employment with exploitation, income and wealth inequality with inequity, and the command of economic resources with dangerous political power."
http://www.breitb...5/03/27/
gkam
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 27, 2015
Stop cutting and pasting. It is just hiding behind the sorry stuff of someone else.

Show us that magical libertarian place, where you all build your own roads and power systems.

Ryggy, just because somebody says something does not make it true, no matter how hard you want it to be. Why would you assume some opinion on Breitbart would have any credibility? It is a political site, trying to get you suckered in again, like they did with "WMD!".
ryggesogn2
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 27, 2015
"Morality is certainly about right and wrong, good and bad, but it's also about the irresistible urge to tell other people how to live their lives, and to condemn – even kill – outsiders. The most moral people in the world are suicide bombers."
" it's as if people can't tell the difference between Bill Gates and Genghis Khan. Or between the Forbes 400 and the court of Louis XIV.

The big difference is that the Forbes 400 created their wealth, and countless millions of jobs in the process. They didn't steal it (Unless, of course, they got rich through government favours or bail-outs, which really was the old-fashioned way)."
http://www.breitb...-theory/
gkam
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 27, 2015
'"Behind every great fortune is a great crime"
ryggesogn2
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 27, 2015
"As Friedrich Hayek noted, the thing that intelligent people tend most to overestimate is the power of intelligence."
"Scientists also tend, like most people, to be zero-sum neo-Malthusians, and, as Rupert Darwal points out in his excellent book, The Age of Global Warming, they are often seem to be uninterested in the lessons of history.

They also inevitably represent a tribal moral community. As such it is extremely difficult to deviate from the conventional paradigm without being excommunicated."
"In conclusion, I believe that climate moralists are impervious to the adverse impact of their policies because their morality is closely interwoven with misunderstanding of economics, distaste for capitalism, lack of interest in history and the overwhelming desire of their psychic elephants to dictate how other people should live."
http://www.breitb...-theory/
gkam
2.3 / 5 (6) Mar 27, 2015
Where is that Libertarian place, Ryggy?

Stop cutting and pasting nonsense from others, tell us where that magical place is, so we can all build our own water and power and sewer systems.

You won't want to use my roads, will you?
ryggesogn2
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 27, 2015
"Immediately after dismantling its subsidy regime, farmers were afraid and furious, marching on the capitol in protest. However, despite predictions that 10 percent of its farms would go bankrupt, New Zealand retained 99 percent of its farms. Herds were consolidated, and breeds that reflected market demand—producing leaner milk, for instance—rose to prominence. And benefits to the land were dramatic. Pesticide use declined by 50 percent. Soil erosion, land clearing, and overstocking also declined. The entire agricultural sector was forced to shift toward better practices that increased efficiency and yield. Livestock farming, previously stimulated by output subsidies, was curbed and, for the most part, relocated away from erodible hillsides to more sustainable pastures.

Today the agricultural sector is New Zealand's export lifeblood, dominated by family farms and experiencing constant, enviable growth."
http://epi.yale.e...-zealand
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Mar 27, 2015
"WMD!"

"Bring 'em on!"

"We will be greeted as liberators".

We can all cut and paste.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) Mar 27, 2015
" He drew from the ancient African tradition of sharing in an effort to create what he saw as a special African socialism. He was not interested in Marxism-Leninism but in socialism rooted in traditional African village life. Nyerere focused on improving the standard of living in rural areas. "
" In 1983, Nyerere gave up on his socialist dream and declared that the government would again permit private enterprise in farming, including companies investing in private commercial farms. Nyerere agreed to cut government subsidies and to cut state run organizations. Faced with famines and mass starvations, Nyerere resigned in 1985, after twenty-four years as his nation's president. And the new regime that took office began dismantling government controls over the economy."
http://www.fsmith...-tan.htm
gkam
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 27, 2015
Why do you have to cut and paste the silly words of others?

Have you ever done anything yourself?

Are you really otto?
ryggesogn2
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 27, 2015
"HAVANA — Cuba's liveliest experiment with capitalism unfolds every night in a dirt lot on the edge of the capital, where Truman-era trucks lugging fresh produce meet up with hundreds of buyers on creaking bicycle carts clutching wads of cash.

"This place, it feeds all of Havana," said Misael Toledo, 37, who owns three small food stores in the city. "Before, you could only buy or sell in the markets of Fidel."

The agriculture exchange, which sprang up last year after the Cuban government legalized a broader range of small businesses, is a vivid sign of both how much the country has changed, and of all the political and practical limitations that continue to hold it back."
"But Mr. Castro has refused to allow what many farmers and experts see as an obvious solution to the shortages of transportation and equipment: Let people import supplies on their own."
http://www.nytime...ems.html
ryggesogn2
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 27, 2015
"Cubans also say they worry that the bureaucrats responsible for managing the country's complex mix of state-run and private agriculture lack the knowledge needed to make the system work. In the fall, there were piles of bananas rotting all over Havana, for example. Farmers say the government guaranteed a price that was too high, failing to recognize that because bananas require less investment and their planting season is short, farmers would overproduce."
" But the question many across Cuba are asking is: How far will Mr. Castro's socialist government let them rise?'
http://www.nytime...ems.html

"Chavez's Farming Utopia Withers as Pet Projects Abandoned"
http://www.bloomb...ulfilled
gkam
2.1 / 5 (7) Mar 27, 2015
I am still waiting for Ryggy to tell us where that magical nation is, where we have no taxes, can build our own roads, our own sanitary systems, our own electrical systems, and make others pay to use them.

Any fool can cut and paste.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (6) Mar 27, 2015
Why do you have to cut and paste the silly words of others?

Have you ever done anything yourself?

Are you really otto?
But you do this all the time mr sloganeer. Your slogans are rarely your own are they?

And you have real trouble when you copy/paste drivel about words you dont understand like deflagration/detonation, because you dont have the proper engg backround to know when youre using them wrongly.
betterexists
1 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2015
If so, I would like to see a Frog fly like a Pigeon!
Add wings that it lacks.
betterexists
not rated yet Mar 29, 2015
Just by using Heavy Equipment, Nations with so much ice/snow are able to produce a lot & feed so many pets in so many houses. Imagine what Nations luckily without any such hindrances can do when so much sunlight is available throughout the year if they too resort to similar sophistication. Once the message spreads in this Internet era, we are likely to see miracles there too. But, the problem is Wars brought out by others with very selfish motives!
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) Mar 29, 2015
the problem is Wars brought out by others with very selfish motives!


Wars brought by socialists with selfish motives?
What other motives did Mugabe have but selfish ones when he destroyed the productive farms in Zimbabwe?
betterexists
1 / 5 (5) Mar 29, 2015
If people were so concerned about food for man, they would be going to the forests and shooting down all Pythons, Big Cats, Bears, foxes & Alligators/Crocs within a couple of months!
We cannot let them compete with our food anymore. We need a lot of deer, bison , wild boars on our dinner table free of cost!
betterexists
1 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2015
"the problem is Wars brought out by others with very selfish motives! "
1) No Communism
2) No U.S.S.R but Ukraine for NATO
3) Arab Spring
4) Depose Assad of Syria
5) Regime Changes
6) WHAT NOT!
betterexists
1 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2015
"the problem is Wars brought out by others with very selfish motives! "
1) No Communism
2) No U.S.S.R but Ukraine for NATO
3) Arab Spring
4) Depose Assad of Syria
5) Regime Changes
6) WHAT NOT!

And No Nukes in the hands of others; Then, Throw Away yours first. Be Role Model. Others are Bad, WoW!
DavidW
1 / 5 (2) Mar 29, 2015
"...genetic engineering to boost the photosynthetic efficiency of plants offers the best hope of increasing crop yields enough to feed a planet expected to have 9.5 billion people..."

How about not genetically messing up the plants more and not wasting the currently grown supply by a factor of 10 by raising and killing animals for the sole purpose of personal gratification (taste, fun, unneeded nutrition)?!?!?!

betterexists
1 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2015
I am still waiting for Ryggy to tell us where that magical nation is, where we have no taxes, can build our own roads, our own sanitary systems, our own electrical systems, and make others pay to use them. Any fool can cut and paste.

Magical Nation?
A Nation with Quantum Computer, Nuclear Fusion Tech, Artificial Photosynthesis Tech, Inexpensive Seawater to Freshwater Tech...NOT Mars going Tech! etc.,
DavidW
1 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2015
'...but I eat it!'
As if buying yourself food from money gained from selling stolen goods, when you already had money to buy food, justifies the stealing.

'people have always killed the animals...'
As if, 'We have always killed each other in war..' justifies going to war.

'The bible says,...'
As if we can hear the Word of the True Living God, "the truth', by ignoring, upfront and first, the most important thing our True Living God has ever said, "Life is Most Important in Life". The factually true "Most Important Truth in Life".

Faith comes by hearing the Word. Thia allows us to accept that which is truthfully real.

"...,but the love of God saves me through forgiveness..."
As if because God love us we have an excuse to continue harming other life for personal gratification.

I don't care what your IQ test says... if you still harm life and ignore the most important truth in life, then that test is meaningless. As it ignores what is truthfully most important in life
ryggesogn2
4 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2015
We need a lot of deer, bison , wild boars on our dinner table free of cost!

Nothing is free.

And there way too many deer all over the USA that should be harvested, but not for free.
Shootist
1 / 5 (4) Mar 30, 2015
The Malthusians have been saying the world is one step away from starvation since the 1950s. Like Peak Oil: Hogwash then. Hogwash now.

Such prognostications are only about gathering and keeping power.


Like Lemmings to a cliff. Progressives down vote reflexively.
Feldagast
not rated yet Mar 30, 2015
Where is that Libertarian place, Ryggy?

Stop cutting and pasting nonsense from others, tell us where that magical place is, so we can all build our own water and power and sewer systems.

You won't want to use my roads, will you?

Your roads? how do you figure that? The tax money spent to make those roads came from where? I promise to stay off the 1 foot by 1 foot of road you paid for if you stay off everyone else's square foot of road.
jsdarkdestruction
5 / 5 (2) Mar 30, 2015
If people were so concerned about food for man, they would be going to the forests and shooting down all Pythons, Big Cats, Bears, foxes & Alligators/Crocs within a couple of months!
We cannot let them compete with our food anymore. We need a lot of deer, bison , wild boars on our dinner table free of cost!

Wow. I'm amazed at your statement.
1. If we are going to do that why not just cut down all the forests and kill all the prey animals and replace them with more efficient food animals.
2. If we get rid of all predators the prey populations will explode and damage to agriculture will sky rocket?
3. The collisions rates will greatly go up too.
4. What makes you think it would be free?
Sigh
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 30, 2015
"They [scientists] also inevitably represent a tribal moral community. As such it is extremely difficult to deviate from the conventional paradigm without being excommunicated."

You do realise that this is a standard argument trotted out by anti-vaxxers, and by advocates for cold fusion, anti-gravity, the electric universe and Young Earth creationism?

I admit that, when it comes to tribal moral community, you with your regular rants against evil socialism know that from the inside like few others, but I am not sure that lets you more accurately identify one from the outside.
Sigh
5 / 5 (4) Mar 30, 2015
If people were so concerned about food for man, they would be going to the forests and shooting down all Pythons, Big Cats, Bears, foxes & Alligators/Crocs within a couple of months!
Do search this site for articles on what happens when you remove apex predators, and also for ecosystem services.

We cannot let them compete with our food anymore. We need a lot of deer, bison , wild boars on our dinner table free of cost!
You mean the time of the people who find them, kill them and gut them is free? And the checking for diseases, and the transport?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (6) Mar 30, 2015
"...genetic engineering to boost the photosynthetic efficiency of plants offers the best hope of increasing crop yields enough to feed a planet expected to have 9.5 billion people..."

How about not genetically messing up the plants more and not wasting the currently grown supply by a factor of 10 by raising and killing animals for the sole purpose of personal gratification (taste, fun, unneeded nutrition)?!?!?!
-They're already genetically messed up by millenia of domestication, selecting for quantity over quality. We now have the ability to replace nutrients and strengthen weakened immune systems that were bred out of them.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Mar 30, 2015
The tax money spent to make those roads came from where?


In fuel taxes alone, I pay $.02 per mile to drive my roads.
gkam
1 / 5 (4) Mar 30, 2015
Boo-hoo,. . whine, . . !!!
MP3Car
not rated yet Apr 10, 2015

More socialism is not the answer.

What data does anyone have to show that top down socialist policies increase food production, or that top down, socialist population control policies improve the lives of others?


How is "encouraging" people to only have two children socialism? How is eliminating credits/deductions beyond two children socialism? In theory, this would result in LOWER taxes for everyone with two children or less. And don't get me wrong, I don't know that this should apply to everyone, but if you're making 150k/year, do you really need a deduction (in the form of exemptions) of $15k for your 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th kid? Exemptions do phase out once you get to the 300-400k AGI range, but someone making 150k should easily be able to afford that extra ~$4,000 (25% of $4k*4) by not taking those four exemptions.

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