Plant research could point way to food security

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


Scientists in the UK and USA, including a team from Oxford Brookes University, have been awarded £6.1 million to improve the process of photosynthesis.

Scientists in the UK and USA, including a team from Oxford Brookes University, have been awarded £6.1 million to improve the process of photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis allows plants to convert sunlight into food. The four transatlantic research consortia will explore ways to overcome limitations in photosynthesis which could significantly increase the yield of crops for food production or sustainable bioenergy.

It is hoped the entire research project could even lead to the blueprint to make a fully artificial leaf capable of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Professor David Fell from Oxford Brookes explained: “This work will provide new insights into how plants and algae acquire and use carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which is of great importance in predicting and coping with the current rapid changes in the atmosphere and hence in climate. The work will also contribute to strategies to increase global food security, because it will indicate new ways in which crop productivity can be increased.”

The Oxford Brookes project will involve combining algal and plant photosynthesis. Tiny, single-celled green algae that live in fresh water are able to concentrate carbon dioxide, making their photosynthesis very efficient.

Project partners at the Carnegie Institute for Science at Stanford, USA and the University of Cambridge will discover how the algae are able to concentrate carbon dioxide. Scientists from the John Innes Centre will then transfer parts of the carbon dioxide concentrating mechanism from the algae into a plant to create an ‘advanced plant’.

This advanced plant will be studied and subjected to mathematical modelling by Professor Fell and Dr Mark Poolman. The plant is expected to show increased productivity and provide information to underpin breeding of crop plants with greater yields in future.

The funding has been awarded by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the US National Science Foundation (NSF).