Into the Shadows and Back into Sunlight: Photosynthesis in Fluctuating Light

Stephen P. Long, Samuel H. Taylor, Steven J. Burgess, Elizabete Carmo-Silva, Tracy Lawson, Amanda P. De Souza, Lauriebeth Leonelli, Yu Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Photosynthesis is an important remaining opportunity for further improvement in the genetic yield potential of our major crops. Measurement, analysis, and improvement of leaf CO2 assimilation (A) have focused largely on photosynthetic rates under light-saturated steady-state conditions. However, in modern crop canopies of several leaf layers, light is rarely constant, and the majority of leaves experience marked light fluctuations throughout the day. It takes several minutes for photosynthesis to regain efficiency in both sun-shade and shade-sun transitions, costing a calculated 10-40% of potential crop CO2 assimilation. Transgenic manipulations to accelerate the adjustment in sun-shade transitions have already shown a substantial productivity increase in field trials. Here, we explore means to further accelerate these adjustments and minimize these losses through transgenic manipulation, gene editing, and exploitation of natural variation. Measurement andanalysis of photosynthesis in sun-shade and shade-sun transitions are explained. Factors limiting speeds of adjustment and how they could be modified to effect improved efficiency are reviewed, specifically nonphotochemical quenching (NPQ), Rubisco activation, and stomatal responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)617-648
Number of pages32
JournalAnnual Review of Plant Biology
StatePublished - 2022


  • Rubisco
  • crop breeding
  • crop productivity
  • genetic engineering
  • nonphotochemical quenching
  • photosynthesis
  • photosynthetic induction
  • stomata

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Physiology
  • Plant Science
  • Cell Biology


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