Simulation helps enhance photosynthesis

By Nisha P Lalu
Published: Monday 31 December 2007

The model simulates photosynth food production in plants is still not optimum because their slow adaptation to changes in the environment such as higher levels of carbon dioxide. Due to this, photosynthesis is still below par. So, how can plants enhance photosynthesis? Many biotechnologists have tried to increase the production by altering genes in plants, but were not sure of the specific genes to target. It is not feasible to experiment with actual plants since over 100 proteins are involved in photosynthesis. Now, a computer model has helped scientists identify them. Researchers at the University of Illinois in the us have used the model, which mimics the process of evolution, for the purpose. They used the model to find out what would happen if a fixed amount of nitrogen is taken up by the plant in different ways-- redistribution of resources. Adding more nitrogen to the system is not feasible as it becomes toxic. At each stage, the plant that was better at photosynthesis was used for further studies on the evolution of the plant. Their findings show this method will help increase yields without depending too much on fertilizers.

This is the first model to simulate every step of the photosynthetic process. The photosynthesis becomes optimal only after 1,500 generations of plant. "By rearranging the investment of nitrogen, we could almost double efficiency of the plant," says Steve Long, lead researcher. Also, the plant prefers to evolve in ways suitable for its own survival; not for the sake of producing more food. Though counterparts of the virtual models might not grow robustly in the wild, they are likely to do well when cultivated, says Long. The study was published in the journal Plant Physiology (Vol 145 No 2).

Experts in India too feel the results are significant and will help find more efficient plants. Ashwani Pareek, assistant professor, School of Life Sciences, jnu says, "The findings are quite encouraging and would help us plan our biological research." Such modelling will also pave way as to how and what should we do to tackle future problems such as global warming related to higher levels of carbon in the environment, he adds.

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