To improve photosynthesis in rice and increase crop yields, scientists
working on the Oxford University-led C4 Rice Project have, by introducing a
single maize gene to the plant, moved towards 'supercharging' rice to the
level of more efficient crops.
Rice uses the C3 photosynthetic pathway, which in hot, dry environments is
much less efficient than the C4 pathway used in other plants such as maize
and sorghum. Scientists thought that if rice could be 'switched' to use C4
photosynthesis, its productivity will increase by 50%.
The researchers showed how they took the first step on this journey called
the 'proto-Kranz' anatomy by introducing a single maize gene known as
GOLDEN2-LIKE to the rice plant. This step increased the volume of functional
chloroplasts and mitochondria in the sheath cells surrounding leaf veins,
mimicking the traits seen in proto-Kanz species.
Professor Jane Langdale, Professor of Plant Development in the Department of
Plant Sciences at Oxford University, and Principal Investigator on this
phase of the C4 Rice Project, said: "This research introduces a single gene
to the rice plant to recreate the first step along the evolutionary path
from C3 to C4. It's a really encouraging development, and the challenge now
is to build on that and find the right genes to tweak to complete the
remaining steps in the process."