Scientists at The Australian National University (ANU) have engineered tiny carbon-capturing engines from blue-green algae into plants, in a breakthrough that promises to help boost the yields of important food crops such as wheat, cowpeas and cassava. Lead researcher Dr Ben Long from ANU said the discovery was a major leap forward in improving the way crops convert carbon dioxide, water and sunlight into energy -- a process called photosynthesis, which is one of the main limitations to crop yield. "For the first time, we have inserted tiny compartments from cyanobacteria -- commonly known as blue-green algae -- into crop plants that form part of a system that could lead to a 60 percent increase in plant growth and yield," said Dr Ben Long from the ANU Research School of Biology whose work has been funded by the international Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) consortium. These compartments, called carboxysomes, are responsible for making cyanobacteria so efficient at transforming carbon dioxide into energy-rich sugars. "Until now, inserting a carboxysome into a plant had been in the realm of science fiction and it has taken us more than five years to get to this point," Dr Long said. "We are trying to insert a turbo-charged carbon-capturing engine into plants, by mimicking a solution that cyanobacteria -- the ancestors of modern plant chloroplasts, the green compartments where plants make their own food -- found millions of years ago."
Photo Credit: The Australian National University