In a study published in the journal Nature Plants, researchers at Princeton University and Northwestern University proposed a new way to increase crop yields, taking a hint from a fast-growing green algal species. The species has a unique carbon-concentrating mechanism that molecular biologists think could be engineered into crops like rice and wheat to accelerate their growth, increasing crop production and potentially food supply.
The algae, known as Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, contain an organelle called the pyrenoid that speeds up the conversion of carbon from the air into a form that the organisms can use for growth. The researchers used molecular modeling to identify the features of the pyrenoid that are most critical for enhancing carbon fixation, and then mapped how this functionality could be engineered into crop plants. The aim is to boost the growth rates of these essential food crops.
“This work provides clear guidance for engineering a carbon-concentrating mechanism into plants, including major crops,” said Martin Jonikas, a senior author of the study who is an associate professor of molecular biology at Princeton.