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October 25th, 2017 / ISAAA, US

To improve photosynthesis in rice and increase crop yields, scientists working on the Oxford University-led C4 Rice Project have, by introducing a single maize gene to the plant, moved towards ‘supercharging’ rice to the level of more efficient crops.

Rice uses the C3 photosynthetic pathway, which in hot, dry environments is much less efficient than the C4 pathway used in other plants such as maize and sorghum. Scientists thought that if rice could be ‘switched’ to use C4 photosynthesis, its productivity will increase by 50%.

The researchers showed how they took the first step on this journey called the ‘proto-Kranz’ anatomy by introducing a single maize gene known as GOLDEN2-LIKE to the rice plant. This step increased the volume of functional chloroplasts and mitochondria in the sheath cells surrounding leaf veins, mimicking the traits seen in proto-Kanz species.

Professor Jane Langdale, Professor of Plant Development in the Department of Plant Sciences at Oxford University, and Principal Investigator on this phase of the C4 Rice Project, said: “This research introduces a single gene to the rice plant to recreate the first step along the evolutionary path from C3 to C4. It’s a really encouraging development, and the challenge now is to build on that and find the right genes to tweak to complete the remaining steps in the process.” Read more