Around three per cent of all plants use an advanced form of photosynthesis, which allows them to capture more carbon dioxide, use less water, and grow more rapidly. Overall this makes them over 50% more efficient than plants that use the less efficient form.
A new study has traced back the evolutionary paths of all the plants that use advanced photosynthesis, including maize, sugar cane and millet, to find out how they evolved the same ability independently, despite not being directly related to one another.
Using a mathematical analysis, the authors uncovered a number of tiny changes in the plants' physiology that, when combined, allow them to grow more quickly; using a third as much water as other plants; and capture around thirteen times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Together, these individual evolutionary advances make up a 'recipe' that could be used to improve key agricultural crops that only use the less efficient form. The study's authors say this knowledge could be used to breed super-crops such as faster growing, drought-resistant rice.
The research was led by mathematician Dr Iain Johnston from Imperial College London and plant biologist Dr Ben Williams from the University of Cambridge, and is published in the journal eLife. They came together to test whether a new mathematical model of evolution could be used to unpick the evolutionary pathways that led to the advanced photosynthesis.
"My main interest is in using tools from maths to make some concrete progress in a problem of real biological and social value," said Dr Johnston. "Encouragingly for the efforts to design super-efficient crops, we found that several different pathways lead to the more efficient photosynthesis – so there are plenty of different recipes biologists could follow to achieve this."
Dr Julian Hibberd from the University of Cambridge, the final author on the paper, added: "This is not only an interesting mathematical result, it should help biological scientists to develop crops with significantly improved yields to feed the world. Like the proverbial roads that all lead to Rome, Ben and Iain have shown that there are many routes taken by plants in the evolutionary process."
The next step for the biologists is to recreate the natural evolution of the more advanced photosynthesis by mirroring the genetic and physiological changes in simple laboratory plants, and eventually in rice.
"Phenotypic landscape inference reveals multiple evolutionary paths to C4 photosynthesis" was published by Ben P Williams, Iain G Johnston, Sarah Covshoff and Julian M Hibberd in eLife DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.00961
Simon Levey | Source: EurekAlert!
Further information: www.imperial.ac.uk
More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:
Sustainable, innovative forest use for Europe
11.12.2013 | Bayerische Forschungsallianz GmbH
Toxic Substances in Banana Plants Kill Root Pests
11.12.2013 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie
The molecular architecture of three key proteins and their complexes reveals how plants fine-tune their immune response to pathogens
Plants rarely get sick in their natural environment. When the threat of infection arises, a quick decision is made about the necessary countermeasures. The course is set by a protein which forms complexes with its partner proteins for this purpose.
Jane Parker from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding ...
Researchers studying speciation of butterfly orchids on the Azores have been startled to discover that the answer to a long-debated question "Do the islands support one species or two species?" is actually "three species".
Hochstetter's Butterfly-orchid, newly recognized following application of a battery of scientific techniques and reveling in a complex taxonomic history worthy of Sherlock Holmes, is arguably Europe's rarest orchid species. Under threat in its mountain-top retreat, the orchid urgently requires conservation recognition.
A lavishly illustrated publication, titled "Systematic revision of Platanthera in ...
Researchers from Brown University and the University of Hawaii have found some mineralogical surprises in the Moon's largest impact crater.
Data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper that flew aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter shows a diverse mineralogy in the subsurface of the giant South Pole Aitken basin.
The differing mineral signatures could be reflective of the minerals dredged up at the time of the giant impact 4 billion years ago, ...
In power electronics systems bonded connections create the central electrical connections between adjoining surfaces.
The quality of these bonded connections is one of the main factors that determines the reliability and availability of drive systems in electric vehicles, and hence constitutes a major design challenge for German auto manufacturers aiming to electrify their vehicles.
Now the partners participating in the RoBE (Robust Bonds in ...
International team of scientists develops new feedback method for optimizing the laser pulse shapes used in the control of chemical reactions
In many ways, traditional chemical synthesis is similar to cooking. To alter the final product, you can change the ingredients or their ratio, change the method of mixing ingredients, or change the temperature or pressure of the environment of the ingredients.
Like an accomplished chef, chemists have become very skilled ...
11.12.2013 | Information Technology
11.12.2013 | Life Sciences
11.12.2013 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
11.12.2013 | Event News
10.12.2013 | Event News
05.12.2013 | Event News