Impact story

More food through more efficient photosynthesis

Some plants are better at using sunlight for their growth than others. Wageningen University & Research scientists investigate how we can make other crops just as efficient. Thus, we will be able to produce enough food for the growing world population with the same amount of farmland.

Some cabbage-like plants have much more efficient photosynthesis – the process of transforming sunlight into energy- than other plants. One type, in particular, originating in the Mediterranean area, utilises almost all of the light that hits the leaves, while other crops may use no more than 60% of the maximum light intensity. Some desert plants and fast-growing weeds are also very skilled at changing sunlight into energy.

Natural variation

Wageningen University & Research experts discovered a decade ago that there are also individual plants within a species that are more efficient in their photosynthesis than others. This natural variation is now being used by scientists to increase the yield. This endeavour takes place in collaboration with scientists from across the globe and is supported with funding from NWO, TKI Agri & Food and the European Union. The scientists meticulously study the processes involved in photosynthesis and try to manipulate them.

And with success. At the beginning of 2020, researchers showed that the chloroplast in the thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), a plant widespread throughout Europe, can be replaced by that of a faster-growing plant without altering the plant’s genetic make-up. The type of chloroplast is a determining factor in photosynthesis and thus in the plant’s growth.

If it is up to Wageningen University & Research, we will know how to increase food crop photosynthesis efficiency by a factor between 1.5 and 2 within a decade. This knowledge will allow us to increase food production without having to increase the amount of farmland. It can contribute to food security for a growing world population. Want to learn more? See the links of contact one of our experts.

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