Using C4 Photosynthesis to Improve Food and Biofuel Crops

Rice Plants
Rice Plants, IRRI

The human population is growing exponentially and we need major improvements in crop productivity if we are to feed the world’s growing population. A better understanding of C4 photosynthesis may allow scientists to engineer these efficient photosynthetic traits into other plants, which would increase crop yields. One example of this type of research is The C4 Rice Project.  Rice, a C3 plant, is a vital food crop around the world, especially in developing nations. In Asia, one hectare of rice currently feeds an average of 27 people. By 2050, this same hectare of rice will need to feed 43 if we expect to have enough food for the growing population. With the growth of rice production slowing, a new technique is needed to improve rice. The goal of The C4 Rice Project is to gain a more in depth understanding of C4 photosynthesis and engineer those traits into rice. Although still many years away from completion, the project estimates that it can increase rice yields by as much as 50%, double water efficiency, and increase nitrogen use efficiency by 30%. C4 traits may one day be engineered to other crops, too, such as wheat.

International Rice Research Institute

A better understanding of C4 photosynthesis may also lead to yield increases in biofuel crops. This growing industry aims to reduce our reliance on petroleum based oil, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. By increasing the yield and oil producing ability of biofuel crops, more fuel can be produced.

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