Scientists at the Australien National University (ANU) have engineered tiny
carbon-capturing engines from blue-green algae into plants. This
breakthrough promises to help boost the yields of important food crops such
as wheat, cowpeas, and cassava.
Lead researcher Dr. Ben Long said that for the first time, they have
inserted tiny compartments from blue-green algae, also known as
cyanobacteria, into crop plants that form part of a system that could lead
to a 60 percent increase in plant growth and yield. The compartments, called
carboxysomes, make cyanobacteria so efficient at transforming carbon dioxide
into energy-rich sugars. Dr. Long's team is trying to insert a turbo-charged
carbon-capturing engine into plants by mimicking cyanobacteria.
Rubisco, the enzyme that fixes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, is slow
and finds it difficult to differentiate between carbon dioxide and oxygen,
leading to wasteful energy loss. Cyanobacteria, however, uses a 'CO2
concentrating mechanism' to deliver large amounts of the gas into their
carboxysomes, increasing the speed of CO2 transformation into sugar and
minimizes oxygen reactions. The Rubisco enzyme inside cyanobacteria captures
carbon dioxide and generates sugars about three times faster than the
Rubisco found in plants.