Photosynthesis, light use efficiency, and yield of reduced-chlorophyll soybean mutants in field conditions
Reducing chlorophyll (chl) content may improve the conversion efficiency of absorbed photosynthetically active radiation into biomass and therefore yield in dense monoculture crops by improving light penetration and distribution within the canopy. The effects of reduced chl on leaf and canopy photosynthesis and photosynthetic efficiency were studied in two reportedly robust reduced-chl soybean mutants, Y11y11 and y9y9, in comparison to the wild-type (WT) “Clark” cultivar. Both mutants were characterized during the 2012 growing season whereas only the Y11y11 mutant was characterized during the 2013 growing season. Chl deficiency led to greater rates of leaf-level photosynthesis per absorbed photon early in the growing season when mutant chl content was ∼35% of the WT, but there was no effect on photosynthesis later in the season when mutant leaf chl approached 50% of the WT. Transient benefits of reduced chl at the leaf level did not translate to improvements in canopy-level processes. Reduced pigmentation in these mutants was linked to lower water use efficiency, which may have dampened any photosynthetic benefits of reduced chl, especially since both growing seasons experienced significant drought conditions. These results, while not confirming our hypothesis or an earlier published study in which the Y11y11 mutant significantly outyielded the WT, do demonstrate that soybean significantly overinvests in chl. Despite a >50% chl reduction, there was little negative impact on biomass accumulation or yield, and the small negative effects present were likely due to pleiotropic effects of the mutation. This outcome points to an opportunity to reinvest nitrogen and energy resources that would otherwise be used in pigment-proteins into increasing biochemical photosynthetic capacity, thereby improving canopy photosynthesis and biomass production.