Professor Martin Parry, Lancaster
Improving Photosynthesis The Engine of Life
A key pillar to achieving food security is to produce more food. It is projected that the world will require the production of an additional 30% of primary foodstuffs by 2030. However, at the current rates of crop yield improvement, the world will fall far short of that target. A key challenge for global agriculture is to grow more food on less land, using less water, fertiliser, fungicides and pesticides than ever before. This could be achievable by improving the efficiency of photosynthesis, the engine of life. The light driven assimilation of CO2 in photosynthesis is the primary determinant of crop biomass and yield. Whilst the current theoretical maximum efficiency of photosynthesis of C3 crops is 6%, it averages less than 1% in the field. This suggests a considerable opportunity for increasing efficiency and achieving a step-change in crop yields. Free-air CO2 enrichment experiments provide compelling evidence that increasing crop photosynthesis will increase the yields of our major crops. Improving the conversion efficiency is a key opportunity to both increase yield and also the efficiency with which other resources (notably water and nitrogen) are used, transforming agriculture toward a more productive, sustainable future. Despite this, improved photosynthetic efficiency has so far played little role in improving yield potential. We are exploiting both natural genetic variation and synthetic biology to try to increase the photosynthetic performance and resource use efficiency of crops.