A new study led by scientists at the University of Essex reveals that
increasing production of a common, naturally occurring protein in plant
leaves could boost the yields of major food crops by almost 50 percent.
In the study, the research team engineered a model crop to overexpress a
native protein that is involved in the recycling process called
photorespiration. After two years of field trials, they found that
increasing the H-protein in the plants' leaves increases production by 27 to
47 percent. However, increasing this protein throughout the plant stunts
growth and metabolism, resulting in four-week-old plants that are half the
size of their unaltered counterparts.
Lead author Patricia Lopez-Calcagno said that scientists have used promoters
that express proteins at high levels throughout the plant, but for the
H-protein, they realized that more is not always better, and when the method
is translated to other crop plants, changes in protein must be to the right
levels in the right tissues. The team plans to increase the levels of this
protein in soybeans, cowpeas (black-eyed peas), and cassava to increase the
yields and opportunities for farmers worldwide, particularly smallholder
farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.