21 April 2018

C4 photosynthesis and GM


Science types may be familiar with C4 photosynthesis (look it up in Wikipedia). It evolved about 30 million years ago and has in the last 5-7 million years become important in, especially, grasslands, where drought tolerance and efficient carbon fixation are important adaptations. Essentially, it's a major upgrade in one of the most important "Good Tricks" in the evolution of life, namely photosynthesis, the ability to turn sunlight into food.

Several important food crops, including corn (maize) and sorghum, use C4, but rice, wheat, rye, barley, and oats do not. There is now important and very promising research going on to introduce the genetic modifications to these grain species that would enable them to make use of C4 photosynthesis to (1) fix carbon from CO-2, thus helping to ameliorate climate change; (2) survive with much less water; and (3) greatly increase their efficiency at producing human usable food (their seeds). Kneejerk opposition to genetic modification aside, this is very promising for making sure the Earth is capable of feeding the 9+ billion people who are expected to inhabit it before the population peaks sometime in this century or early next.

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