A diagram showing three levels of ePhotosynthesis from metabolic kinetics, to leaf-level to canopy microclimate and growth and the importance of modeling each factor in these three steps.

RIPE team models connection between enzyme activity and yields for the first time

A team from the University of Illinois has developed a modeling framework connecting enzyme activity related to photosynthesis to yield. This is the first time a model has tied the dynamic photosynthetic pathways directly to crop growth.

The predicted molecular structure of the mutant form of BCT1 the researchers evolved for function in plants. Each color represents a subunit of the four-component pumping system. The mutant form has fused the blue-colored subunits and enabled the pump to work without the need to switch it 'on’. Figure generated by Loraine Rourke, ANU.

Scientists Engineer CO2-Boosting Protein to Supercharge Plant Photosynthesis

RIPE scientists have introduced a specialized protein complex into the chloroplasts of plants to deliver more carbon dioxide to the enzyme responsible for carbon fixation during photosynthesis. Their work was recently published in the Journal of Experimental Botany.

A zoomed in picture of a green stalk of rice.

Changes Upstream: RIPE team uses CRISPR/Cas9 to alter photosynthesis for the first time

A RIPE team used CRISPR/Cas9 to increase gene expression in rice by changing its upstream regulatory DNA. Their work is the first unbiased gene-editing approach to increase gene expression and downstream photosynthetic activity and was recently published in Science Advances.

A man and a woman smile at the camera while standing among rows of young, green plants.

Engineered increase in mesophyll conductance improves photosynthetic efficiency in field trial

It is possible to engineer increased mesophyll conductance in plants according to new RIPE research! Scientists in the Long Lab at the University of Illinois found that by increasing porosity and decreasing the cell wall thickness they could increase CO2 diffusion and uptake in a model crop. Their work was published today in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

Young Cho kneels surrounded by plants in a field trial

Researchers improve seed nitrogen content by reducing plant chlorophyll levels

Chlorophyll plays a pivotal role in photosynthesis, but it uses a lot of a plant's resources. RIPE researchers wondered if they reduced a plant's chlorophyll levels, if the plant would invest those resources in other areas, potentially improving nutritional quality or yield. Their findings were recently published in the Plant, Cell & Environment journal.

Sunlight filtering through upper layers of the corn canopy.

RIPE researchers determine chloroplast size unlikely option for improving photosynthetic efficiency

Chloroplast size affects photosynthetic efficiency in many ways, but is the current size optimal? A group of RIPE researchers have found, for the first time, that chloroplast size manipulations are unlikely to be an option for increasing crop photosynthetic efficiency.

Seven green soybean pods hang on a stem.

Unveiling the secrets of green pods: The role of soybean pods and seeds in photosynthesis

A team from the university of Illinois has discovered why soybean pods are green. They play a vital role in the plant’s photosynthetic process and significantly contribute to soybean yield!

Yield return due to improved photosynthesis is highly impacted by seasonal climate variability, graph proving it

RIPE researchers model ‘link’ between improved photosynthesis and increased yield

A team from the University of Illinois has modeled improving photosynthesis through enzyme modification and simulated soybean growth with realistic climate conditions, determining to what extent the improvements in photosynthesis could result in increased yields.

Steve Long (left) TED 2023 Possibility April 17-21 Steve Long Crop Sustainability Scientist

RIPE Director Long to speak at TED2023 - POSSIBILITY

RIPE Director Steve Long has been announced as a speaker for TED2023: POSSIBILITY later this month.

Long will present his work on hacking photosynthesis to feed the world and tackle climate change.


Katherine Meacham takes a reading on a box-like device in front of a corn field.

Meacham-Hensold hired as RIPE’s first Scientific Program Manager

RIPE has hired Katherine Meacham-Hensold as its first Scientific Program Manager. Meacham-Hensold will lead the coordination of RIPE’s field trials and plant transformation activities, manage the compilation of regular research updates, and serve as a liaison between RIPE and Bill & Melinda Gates Agricultural Innovations, in addition to continuing to conduct her own research.

Soybean leaves in circles around a light.

RIPE researchers put plant protein mechanism into bacteria to help move forward 50 years of effort

ANU researchers have added components of plant chloroplasts to bacteria. This feat, 50 years in the making, allows them to analyze the proteins in greater detail in order to improve Rubisco, and eventually photosynthesis!

Cassava in a  field.

RIPE research proves potential for measuring root biomass throughout growing season

A team from the University of Illinois has proven how important it is to monitor the biomass of root crops throughout the season rather than relying on end-of-season measurements to analyze growth using ground penetrating radar.

Lisa Ainsworth (Left), Steve Long (Middle), Don Ort (Right)

Bill and Melinda Gates Agricultural Innovations extends RIPE funding with $34M grant

Bill & Melinda Gates Agricultural Innovations has awarded a grant of $34 million to the Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency project.

Maize thumbnail

RIPE researchers show the cause of productivity loss in the fluctuating light of maize crop canopies

Illinois RIPE team shows increased bundle-sheath leakiness of CO2 during photosynthetic induction shows a lack of coordination between the C4 and C3 cycles.

RIPE postdoctoral research associate Dhananjay Gotarkar

RIPE researchers report faster screening of photoprotection in crops

In a recent study, published in JoVE, RIPE researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Cambridge reported a high-throughput method for screening rates of NPQ relaxation in field grown plants.

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RIPE researchers prove bioengineering better photosynthesis increases yields in food crops for the first time ever

For the first time, RIPE researchers have proven that multigene bioengineering of photosynthesis increases the yield of a major food crop in field trials.

Emily Gibson, Liana Acevedo-Siaca, Coralie Salesse-Smith_HXK1 thumbnail

Researchers show potential for improved water-use efficiency in field-grown plants

By overexpressing a sugar-sensing enzyme, called hexokinase, in field-grown tobacco plants, researchers could improve intrinsic water-use efficiency without decreasing photosynthetic rates or biomass production.

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No photosynthetic improvement in ictB transformants in field-grown model crop

Illinois researchers, in collaboration with Essex, tested four tobacco ictB transformants for photosynthetic performance in field-based conditions.

Dr Tory Clarke

Photosynthesis unaffected by increasing carbon dioxide channels in plant membranes

A team from the Australian National University (ANU) investigated the effects of increasing the amount of carbon dioxide channels in plant membranes. 

Ting Lu

RIPE’s Ting Lu elected to the 2022 class of the AIMBE College of Fellows

Bioengineering professor Ting Lu to the AIMBE 2022 class of the College of Fellows.

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Collaborative RIPE team prove leaf width-biomass correlations in cowpea

In a collaboration between RIPE researchers and cowpea breeders from Ahmadu Bello University, and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, the width of cowpea leaves was found to correlate with above-ground biomass across diverse germplasm and environmental conditions.

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BBC’s Follow the Food to feature RIPE researcher’s Rock Dust project

In BBC's Follow the Food's upcoming episode “Turning Back The Climate Clock,” the series focuses on the rock dust projects, led by Research Plant Physiologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) Carl Bernacchi.


Illinois team significantly improves BioCro software for growing virtual crops

A team from the University of Illinois has revamped the popular crop growth simulation software BioCro, making it a more user-friendly and efficient way to predict crop yield. The updated version, BioCro II, allows modelers to use the technology much more easily and includes faster and more accurate algorithms.

thumbnail_Paul South Gene Motifs EurekAlert

RIPE team develops toolkit for synthetic biology

A team from Louisiana State University (LSU) has developed a number of synthetic biology tools for plant geneticists to use to drive the expression of genes.

Cowpea thumbnail

Fickle sunshine slows down Rubisco and limits photosynthetic productivity of crops

Researchers from Lancaster University are working to improve the sustainable productivity of key crops in sub-Saharan Africa have discovered a new imperfection in the way Rubisco functions in cowpea and believe this imperfection is likely shared with other crops.

Urban vegetation

Stronger drought resistance of urban vegetation due to higher temperature, CO2 and reduced O3

Using data collected from urban environments, researchers at Illinois have been able to study dueling effects of climate change factors on vegetation response to drought.

Overhead shot of heaters in the fields

The heat is on: RIPE researchers show ability to future-proof crops for changing climate

Research from Illinois and the USDA-ARS show that bypassing a photosynthetic glitch common to crops like soybean, rice, and wheat, can confer thermal protection under heat stress in the field.


RIPE researchers named on international ‘Highly Cited’ list

Four RIPE researchers are amongst 6,600 researchers around the world recognized by Clarivate as Highly Cited Researchers.

Peng Fu Drought Imprints_thumbnail

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger: Illinois research shows crops have drought ‘memory’ to help reduce yield loss

Illinois researchers find that crops that experience drought conditions or extreme temperatures during their early stages of growth and survive are better able to deal with those same conditions later in their growth cycle.

C3 and C4 gas exchange pic thumbnail

C4 bioenergy grass: working towards higher productivity under fluctuating light

In a recent study, published in GCB Bioenergy, a team from the University of Illinois evaluated limitations to photosynthetic efficiency of bioenergy grass species during fluctuating light.

BBC Follow the Food thumbnail

BBC’s Follow the Food to feature RIPE research

BBC World News’ Follow the Food is a series which explores how we can protect food security in the face of climate change and growing populations. The episode, “The Carbon Challenge,” will air this Friday and feature the RIPE project, RIPE’s Lisa Ainsworth, and our mission in addressing food insecurity.

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Dynamic photosynthesis model simulates 10-20 percent yield increase

A team from the University of Illinois has developed a model that treats photosynthesis as a dynamic process rather than an activity that either is or is not happening.

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University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Professor Ting Lu jointly presented with 1 million euro Future Insight Prize for converting waste into food

RIPE member and associate professor of bioengineering Ting Lu jointly received the 2021 Future Insight Prize to convert plastic waste into a safe source of food. 

PNAS_Rubisco Proton

Rubisco proton production can enhance CO2 acquisition

Recently published in PNAS, RIPE members at ANU are gaining insight into possibly building Rubisco compartments in crops to increase yield productivity.

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Innovative technologies in the agricultural space provides food and climate security

A team of researchers, including RIPE Director Steve Long, proposed possible technological solutions to our food security and climate change emergencies. 

Moore, Bernacchi, Meacham-Hensold

Not just CO2: Rising temperatures also alter photosynthesis in a changing climate

In a recently published review in the Journal of Experimental Botany, a team of scientists explored temperature impacts on crops across scales.



In their three-part series examining everyday life through the lens of chemistry, PBS NOVA is premiering an episode featuring RIPE's work.

Licors Rice Screenhouse IRRI

Flag leaves could help top off photosynthetic performance in rice

Illinois researchers found that some flag leaves of different varieties of rice transform light and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates better than others.

Bernacchi, Fu, Meacham

Light signal emitted during photosynthesis used to quickly screen crops

Illinois researchers reveal a new approach to estimating the photosynthetic capacity of crops to pinpoint their top-performing traits and speed up the process.

2020 RIPE Highly Cited Researchers

Photosynthesis researchers rank among 2020’s most influential scientists

Four RIPE researchers were among 6,167 researchers recognized by Clarivate as Highly Cited Researchers this year.

Cassava field trials

Cassava may benefit from atmospheric change more than other crops

A new study sheds light on how cassava will adapt to future levels of carbon dioxide: yields increase without diminishing nutritional quality.

RIPE Research Greenhouse

The 'Enlightened' Future of Food

RIPE has established a modern plant phenotyping facility, set in a 9,000 square foot greenhouse to research sustainable ways to increase crop yields.

By: Heliospectra

Picture of bundle sheath cells

During COVID, scientists use computers to understand C4 photosynthesis when labs shut down

A team used computational approaches to understand how C4 crops express key enzymes in bundle sheath cells.

Cowpea rows

Scientists further cowpea research—boosting canopy CO2 assimilation, water-use efficiency

RIPE has analyzed how much variation exists within cowpea lines in light absorption and CO2 assimilation throughout the canopy.

Three scientists hold plants that are unmodified, have one modification, and that have two modifications.

Third breakthrough demonstrates photosynthetic hacks can boost yield, conserve water

RIPE has resolved two major photosynthetic bottlenecks to boost plant productivity by 27 percent in real-world field conditions.

2018 Illinois Summer Fellows with Charles Pignon

Undergrad-led study suggests light environment modifications could maximize productivity

A new study looks into the cause of a maladaptation in C4 crops and found that altered light conditions, not leaf age, were their Achilles’ Heel. 

Three researchers pose next to wheat in a glasshouse.

Scientists take a step closer to heat-tolerant wheat

Researchers found out how to trigger photosynthesis more efficiently at higher temperatures in wheat.

Lisa Ainsworth

Lisa Ainsworth of USDA-ARS elected to the National Academy of Sciences

RIPE research leader Lisa Ainsworth has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences—one of the highest honors that a scientist can receive. 

Research team stands by picture of hyperspectral data.

Technology to screen for higher-yielding crop traits is now more accessible to scientists

To drive progress toward higher-yielding crops, our team is revolutionizing the ability to screen research plots for key traits.

Image shows phenotypic differences in 8 rice varieties.

Photosynthesis varies greatly across rice cultivars—natural diversity could boost yields

Our team found a 117% difference between how rice plants harness fluctuating light to fix carbon dioxide into food, suggesting a new trait for selection.

An illustration of Liana Acevedo-Siaca

Meet some of RIPE's wonder women

In celebration of International Women's Day, the RIPE project is shining a spotlight on some of our female scientists.

Yu Wang and Steve Long sit on desk next to a computer displaying their model.

Boost soybean yields by adapting photosynthesis to fleeting shadows, according to model

Soybeans may lose 13 percent of their productivity grappling with changes in light. 

Provost, Stephen Long, Associate Dean Ando, Dean Kidwell pose together

Stephen Long invested as the Stanley O. Ikenberry Chair Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences

Stephen Long has been invested as the Stanley O. Ikenberry Chair Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences, one of the most distinguished honors at Illinois.

2019 RIPE Highly Cited Researchers headshots

RIPE researchers among 2019’s most influential scientists

This year RIPE has four team members recognized as Highly Cited Researchers by the Web of Science group.

Representatives from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation breaking ground

Breaking ground on phenotyping facility at the University of Illinois Research Park

Representatives from Illinois and the Gates Foundation broke ground on a state-of-the-art phenotyping facility.

Amanda De Souza in a cassava field

Scientists find ways to improve cassava, a ‘crop of inequality’ featured at Goalkeepers

A new study has identified opportunities to increase the yields of the staple root crop cassava.

Jim Moroney

Missing link in algal photosynthesis found, offers opportunity to improve crop yields

Our team discovered a missing link in the photosynthetic process of green algae that could help boost crop productivity.

Scientific image from the paper.

Improved model could help scientists better predict crop yield, climate change effects

Our team created a computer model of how microscopic leaf pores open in response to light to create better virtual plants.


Picture of team

Scientists stack algorithms to improve predictions of yield-boosting crop traits

RIPE researchers have stacked together six algorithms to more accurately predict high-yielding crop traits. 

Scientist measuring a plant using spectral analysis.

New technology allows scientists to measure photosynthesis much more quickly

A new method can quickly capture improvements to plants' natural capacity to harvest energy from the sun.

Stephen P. Long portrait in a greenhouse.

Long elected to the National Academy of Sciences

University of Illinois crop sciences and plant biology professor Stephen P. Long is one of 100 new members elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Three researchers stand in field trial.

Scientists engineer shortcut for photosynthetic glitch, boost crop growth by 40 percent

The RIPE project has engineered a shortcut for photorespiration—an energy-expensive process—and increased crop productivity by 40 percent.

Pictures of the highly cited researchers

RIPE researchers rank among world’s most influential

The Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers list for 2018 includes five team members from Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE). 

Steve Long and Don Ort stand in a soybean field.

RIPE project receives additional $13 million to accelerate progress to redesign photosynthesis

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation increases RIPE project investment to complement support from FFAR and DFID to improve yields for farmers worldwide. 

Team stands in greenhouse holding plant.

Blue-green algae promises to help boost food crop yields

In a breakthrough, RIPE has engineered tiny carbon-capturing engines from blue-green algae into plants to significantly boost crop yields one day.

Researchers stand in field trials.

Scientists boost crop production by 47 percent by speeding up photorespiration

RIPE has increased crop production 27 to 47 percent by speeding up a process called photorespiration.

Cassava seedlings grow in a black seed tray.

Cassava breeding hasn’t improved photosynthesis or yield potential

RIPE found unimproved varieties of cassava photosynthesize better than those selected for improved pest and disease resistance.


Scientists engineer crops to conserve water, resist drought

As reported in Nature Communications, RIPE has improved how a crop uses water by 25 percent—without compromising yield—by altering the expression of one gene.

light green plants

Light green plants save nitrogen without sacrificing photosynthetic efficiency

RIPE scientists designed plants with light green leaves to allow more light to penetrate the crop canopy to increase light-use efficiency and yield. 


Hacking evolution, screening technique may improve most widespread enzyme

Scientists have developed tools to simulate millions of years of evolution in days to help plants adapt to changing conditions. 

Long, Ort

The time is RIPE to transform agriculture and feed the world

University of Illinois receives grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, FFAR, and DFID to catalyze photosynthetic improvements, increase yields for farmers worldwide

TJ Higgins working with cowpea breeders in Africa

Cowpea protected from a devastating pest, free for smallholder African farmers

Researchers have engineered cowpea—one of the most important sources of vegetable protein for rural families in sub-Saharan Africa—to produce the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) protein.


Incremental discovery may one day lead to photosynthetic breakthrough

While we have modeled the more-than-100 major steps of photosynthesis, scientists are still discovering the purpose of proteins that can be engineered to increase yield. RIPE has uncovered secrets about another protein, CP12—the full understanding of which may provide an additional route to boost yields in the future.

crops in field

New 3D model predicts best planting practices for farmers

As farmers survey their fields this summer, several questions come to mind: How many plants germinated per acre? How does altering row spacing affect my yields? Does it make a difference if I plant my rows north to south or east to west? Now a computer model can answer these questions by comparing billions of virtual fields with different planting densities, row spacings, and orientations.

field day

Mark your calendar for the 2017 Food & Fuel Field Day

Media, industry, and policymakers are invited to see the plants that could help feed and fuel the world by 2050 and meet the scientists who engineered them at the 2017 Food & Fool Field Day on Thursday, July 13, at the University of Illinois Energy Farm. 


RIPE’s Susanne von Caemmerer elected fellow of the Royal Society

Plant scientist Professor Susanne von Caemmerer from The Australian National University (ANU) has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in the UK, the longest standing scientific academy in the world.

don ort

RIPE Deputy Director elected to the National Academy of Sciences

RIPE Associate Director Donald Ort is among four University of Illinois professors elected to the National Academy of Sciences this year.


Newly characterized protein has potential to save U.S. farmers millions annually

Instead of turning carbon into food, many plants accidentally make a plant-toxic compound during photosynthesis that is recycled through a process called photorespiration. University of Illinois and USDA/ ARS researchers report in Plant Cell the discovery of a key protein in this process, which they hope to manipulate to increase plant productivity.


Soybean plants with fewer leaves yield more

Using computer model simulations, scientists predicted fewer leaves could boost yields and confirmed it works in real-world field trials—increasing soybean production by 8%. This yield gain, which far surpasses the one percent average, is needed to produce 70-100% more food by 2050 to feed an estimated 9.7 billion people.

Illustration of modified and non-modified plants

Scientists tweak photosynthesis and boost crop yield, proving it can be done

Researchers report in the journal Science that they can increase plant productivity by boosting levels of three proteins involved in photosynthesis.


Researchers root for more cassava research

Cassava makes up nearly 50 percent of the diet in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, where populations are projected to increase by more than 120% in the next 30 years. With stagnant yields for the last half-century, scientists realize the need to focus their efforts on this crop now.


Rapid gene analysis method accelerates photosynthesis studies

In a recent study, researchers used a rapid screening technique that genetically engineers plants--in real time--to investigate how to help plants realize their full potential on cloudy days.


Towards smarter crop plants to feed the world

Plant scientists at Lancaster University, with support from the University of Illinois, have made an important advance in understanding the natural diversity of a key plant enzyme which could help us address the looming threat of global food security.


One crop breeding cycle from starvation

In the race against world hunger, we’re running out of time. By 2050, the global population will have grown and urbanized so much that we will need to produce 87 percent more of the four primary food crops – rice, wheat, soy, and maize – than we do today.


Enzymes with the potential to increase wheat yields

Wheat yields could be significantly increased thanks to varieties with a superior form of a common enzyme, according to new RIPE research.


Molecular method promises to speed development of food crops

Modern plant breeders wait weeks or months, not centuries, to discover what the literal fruits of their labors might be; now, a study led has explored the strengths of a molecular method that reduces this wait time to a few days.


Team calls for an integrated field research network in the Midwest to address climate adaptation

Despite record-high yields of corn and soybean across the United States in 2014, climate scientists warn that rising temperatures and future extreme weather may soon put crop yields like this in danger.


Report: Photosynthesis hack needed to feed the world by 2050

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.

enzyme assembly

A protein “chaperone” that is key to achieving enhanced crop yield

Australian scientists have found a way to improve production of an enzyme essential to plant growth. The discovery advances efforts to improve global food security that aim to increase the yields of some of our most important staple crops, such as wheat, cotton and rice.


Computer model amounts to a lot more than a hill of beans

Crops that produce more while using less water seem like a dream for a world with a burgeoning population and already strained food and water resources.


Team models photosynthesis and finds room for improvement

Teaching crop plants to concentrate carbon dioxide in their leaves could increase photosynthetic efficiency by 60 percent.

Steve Long

Team models photosynthesis and finds room for improvement

Teaching crop plants to concentrate carbon dioxide in their leaves could increase photosynthetic efficiency by 60 percent.

Don Ort, Steve Long

University of Illinois to improve crop yield through photosynthesis in a new global effort

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has received a five–year, $25-million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve the photosynthetic properties of key food crops, including rice and cassava.