Faster than expected Rubisco deactivation in shade reduces cowpea photosynthetic potential in variable light conditions
Cowpea is the major source of vegetable protein for rural populations in sub-Saharan Africa and average yields are not keeping pace with population growth. Each day, crop leaves experience many shade events and the speed of photosynthetic adjustment to this dynamic environment strongly affects daily carbon gain. Rubisco activity is particularly important because it depends on the speed and extent of deactivation in shade and recovers slowly on return to sun. Here, direct biochemical measurements showed a much faster rate of Rubisco deactivation in cowpea than prior estimates inferred from dynamics of leaf gas exchange in other species1,2,3. Shade-induced deactivation was driven by decarbamylation, and half-times for both deactivation in shade and activation in saturating light were shorter than estimates from gas exchange (≤53% and 79%, respectively). Incorporating these half-times into a model of diurnal canopy photosynthesis predicted a 21% diurnal loss of productivity and suggests slowing Rubisco deactivation during shade is an unexploited opportunity for improving crop productivity.