Paper of the Month May 2017

Can increased leaf photosynthesis be converted into higher crop mass production? A simulation study for rice using the crop model GECROS


Various genetic engineering routes to enhance C3 leaf photosynthesis have been proposed to improve crop productivity. However, their potential contribution to crop productivity needs to be assessed under realistic field conditions. Using 31 year weather data, we ran the crop model GECROS for rice in tropical, subtropical, and temperate environments, to evaluate the following routes: (1) improving mesophyll conductance (gm); (2) improving Rubisco specificity (Sc/o); (3) improving both gm and Sc/o; (4) introducing C4 biochemistry; (5) introducing C4 Kranz anatomy that effectively minimizes CO2 leakage; (6) engineering the complete C4 mechanism; (7) engineering cyanobacterial bicarbonate transporters; (8) engineering a more elaborate cyanobacterial CO2-concentrating mechanism (CCM) with the carboxysome in the chloroplast; and (9) a mechanism that combines the low ATP cost of the cyanobacterial CCM and the high photosynthetic capacity per unit leaf nitrogen. All routes improved crop mass production, but benefits from Routes 1, 2, and 7 were ≤10%. Benefits were higher in the presence than in the absence of drought, and under the present climate than for the climate predicted for 2050. Simulated crop mass differences resulted not only from the increased canopy photosynthesis competence but also from changes in traits such as light interception and crop senescence. The route combinations gave larger effects than the sum of the effects of the single routes, but only Route 9 could bring an advantage of ≥50% under any environmental conditions. To supercharge crop productivity, exploring a combination of routes in improving the CCM, photosynthetic capacity, and quantum efficiency is required.

Xinyou Yin and Paul C. Struik (2017) Journal of Experimental Botany erx085

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