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The 12 key science moments of 2016

Scientists modify photosynthesis to boost crop yield

Producing enough food for a growing population in the face of extreme weather associated with climate change without using environmentally damaging methods is a trickier balancing act than the Brexit negotiations! But last month scientists at Illinois University made a breakthrough that could herald a second green revolution for world agriculture – they improved the efficiency of photosynthesis, the process by which plants turn sunlight into the biomass that is the source of all our food. The team used mathematical models to show that increasing the speed at which leaves adapt to shade could potentially raise crop yields. They turned this theory into reality by boosting the expression of the genes responsible and crucially showed this worked in agricultural fields, with a 15% increase in productivity.

The work, published in Science, is the culmination of decades of effort to understand the 140 processes underpinning photosynthesis. It demonstrates the value of long-term interdisciplinary collaboration and offers proof of concept for a new approach to environmentally sustainable increases in crop productivity, something that could improve the lives of millions. So it’s my pick for science moment of the year, if not the decade.

Increasing the speed at which leaves adapt to shade could raise crop yields by 15%. Photo Credit: Pat Canova/Alamy Stock Photo

By: Prof Sue Hartley, Director, York Environmental Sustainability Institute, University of York | The Guardian

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