One crop breeding cycle from starvation? How engineering crop photosynthesis for rising CO 2 and temperature could be one important route to alleviation

Johannes Kromdijk, Stephen P Long

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Global climate change is likely to severely impact human food production. This comes at a time when predicted demand for primary foodstuffs by a growing human population and changing global diets is already outpacing a stagnating annual rate of increase in crop productivity. Additionally, the time required by crop breeding and bioengineering to release improved varieties to farmers is substantial, meaning that any crop improvements needed to mitigate food shortages in the 2040s would need to start now. In this perspective, the rationale for improvements in photosynthetic efficiency as a breeding objective for higher yields is outlined. Subsequently, using simple simulation models it is shown how predicted changes in temperature and atmospheric [CO 2 ] affect leaf photosynthetic rates. The chloroplast accounts for the majority of leaf nitrogen in crops. Within the chloroplast about 25% of nitrogen is invested in the carboxylase, Rubisco, which catalyses the first step of CO 2 assimilation. Most of the remaining nitrogen is invested in the apparatus to drive carbohydrate synthesis and regenerate ribulose-1:5- bisphosphate (RuBP), the CO 2 -acceptor molecule at Rubisco. At preindustrial [CO 2 ], investment in these two aspects may have been balanced resulting in co-limitation. At today’s [CO 2 ], there appears to be over-investment in Rubisco, and despite the counter-active effects of rising temperature and [CO 2 ], this imbalance is predicted to worsen with global climate change. By breeding or engineering restored optimality under future conditions increased productivity could be achieved in both tropical and temperate environments without additional nitrogen fertilizer. Given the magnitude of the potential shortfall, better storage conditions, improved crop management and better crop varieties will all be needed. With the short time-scale at which food demand is expected to outpace supplies, all available technologies to improve crop varieties, from classical crop breeding to crop genetic engineering should be employed. This will require vastly increased public and private investment to support translation of first discovery in laboratories to replicated field trials, and an urgent re-evaluation of regulation of crop genetic engineering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20152578
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume283
Issue number1826
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2 2016

Fingerprint

Photosynthesis
reproductive cycle
Carbon Monoxide
Starvation
plant breeding
starvation
Crops
Breeding
photosynthesis
engineering
Ribulose-Bisphosphate Carboxylase
ribulose-bisphosphate carboxylase
crop
Temperature
Nitrogen
crops
temperature
Genetic Engineering
genetic engineering
Climate Change

Keywords

  • Agriculture
  • Food supply
  • Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
  • Global change
  • Mathematical modelling
  • Photosynthesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

Cite this

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title = "One crop breeding cycle from starvation? How engineering crop photosynthesis for rising CO 2 and temperature could be one important route to alleviation",
abstract = "Global climate change is likely to severely impact human food production. This comes at a time when predicted demand for primary foodstuffs by a growing human population and changing global diets is already outpacing a stagnating annual rate of increase in crop productivity. Additionally, the time required by crop breeding and bioengineering to release improved varieties to farmers is substantial, meaning that any crop improvements needed to mitigate food shortages in the 2040s would need to start now. In this perspective, the rationale for improvements in photosynthetic efficiency as a breeding objective for higher yields is outlined. Subsequently, using simple simulation models it is shown how predicted changes in temperature and atmospheric [CO 2 ] affect leaf photosynthetic rates. The chloroplast accounts for the majority of leaf nitrogen in crops. Within the chloroplast about 25{\%} of nitrogen is invested in the carboxylase, Rubisco, which catalyses the first step of CO 2 assimilation. Most of the remaining nitrogen is invested in the apparatus to drive carbohydrate synthesis and regenerate ribulose-1:5- bisphosphate (RuBP), the CO 2 -acceptor molecule at Rubisco. At preindustrial [CO 2 ], investment in these two aspects may have been balanced resulting in co-limitation. At today’s [CO 2 ], there appears to be over-investment in Rubisco, and despite the counter-active effects of rising temperature and [CO 2 ], this imbalance is predicted to worsen with global climate change. By breeding or engineering restored optimality under future conditions increased productivity could be achieved in both tropical and temperate environments without additional nitrogen fertilizer. Given the magnitude of the potential shortfall, better storage conditions, improved crop management and better crop varieties will all be needed. With the short time-scale at which food demand is expected to outpace supplies, all available technologies to improve crop varieties, from classical crop breeding to crop genetic engineering should be employed. This will require vastly increased public and private investment to support translation of first discovery in laboratories to replicated field trials, and an urgent re-evaluation of regulation of crop genetic engineering.",
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AB - Global climate change is likely to severely impact human food production. This comes at a time when predicted demand for primary foodstuffs by a growing human population and changing global diets is already outpacing a stagnating annual rate of increase in crop productivity. Additionally, the time required by crop breeding and bioengineering to release improved varieties to farmers is substantial, meaning that any crop improvements needed to mitigate food shortages in the 2040s would need to start now. In this perspective, the rationale for improvements in photosynthetic efficiency as a breeding objective for higher yields is outlined. Subsequently, using simple simulation models it is shown how predicted changes in temperature and atmospheric [CO 2 ] affect leaf photosynthetic rates. The chloroplast accounts for the majority of leaf nitrogen in crops. Within the chloroplast about 25% of nitrogen is invested in the carboxylase, Rubisco, which catalyses the first step of CO 2 assimilation. Most of the remaining nitrogen is invested in the apparatus to drive carbohydrate synthesis and regenerate ribulose-1:5- bisphosphate (RuBP), the CO 2 -acceptor molecule at Rubisco. At preindustrial [CO 2 ], investment in these two aspects may have been balanced resulting in co-limitation. At today’s [CO 2 ], there appears to be over-investment in Rubisco, and despite the counter-active effects of rising temperature and [CO 2 ], this imbalance is predicted to worsen with global climate change. By breeding or engineering restored optimality under future conditions increased productivity could be achieved in both tropical and temperate environments without additional nitrogen fertilizer. Given the magnitude of the potential shortfall, better storage conditions, improved crop management and better crop varieties will all be needed. With the short time-scale at which food demand is expected to outpace supplies, all available technologies to improve crop varieties, from classical crop breeding to crop genetic engineering should be employed. This will require vastly increased public and private investment to support translation of first discovery in laboratories to replicated field trials, and an urgent re-evaluation of regulation of crop genetic engineering.

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