With the tricks used during the Green Revolution to squeeze out as many calories out of land as possible reaching their limits, scientists are now looking at hacking photosynthesis in order to yield a more efficient process.
Engineers trying to design more light-efficient algae for biofuel production have seen some success with this strategy, but it hasn’t yet been tested in higher plants. But Ort’s optimistic that we can give it a try.
“There’s a biosynthetic pathway for chlorophyll, which has about eight different enzymes,” Ort told me. “Affecting any one of those enzymes can affect chlorophyll. That’s a fairly easy engineering problem, to go in and make one enzyme work more slowly.”
(As an aside, scientists aren’t totally sure why plants evolved to produce more chlorophyll than they can use, but Ort suspects it has to do with competition. Robbing your neighbor of sunlight, even if you have no use for it, can help you stake out your turf. A perfect example of what may be an adaptive trait for wild plants, but isn’t so great for food production).
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