How to feed the world by 2050? Recent breakthrough boosts plant growth by 40 percent

User David B (H/T) notes:

So if the gene editing can capture part of the 30% calorie loss to photorespiration, and if CO2 doubles by 2050, this looks like a win/win for those worried about food insecurity. And I wish I would be around to see how much greener the planet would become.

From EurekAlert!

Public Release: 16-Feb-2019

Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Four unmodified plants (left) grow beside four plants (right) engineered with alternate routes to shortcut photorespiration — an energy-expensive process that costs yield potential. The modified plants are able to reinvest their energy and resources to boost productivity by 40 percent. Credit Claire Benjamin/RIPE Project

One of the most significant challenges of the 21st Century is how to sustainably feed a growing and more affluent global population with less water and fertilizers on shrinking acreage, despite stagnating yields, threats of pests and disease, and a changing climate. Recent advances to address hunger through agricultural discovery will be highlighted at this year’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) at 8 a.m. Feb. 16, 2019, at the Marriott Wardman Park.

“The meeting this year is about ‘Science Transcending Boundaries’–the idea for the session is to highlight research that is transcending scientific and knowledge boundaries, with the ultimate goal to transcend geographic boundaries and reach smallholder farmers in Africa,” said Lisa Ainsworth, a scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) and an adjunct professor of plant biology at the University of Illinois. Recently, Ainsworth was awarded the 2019 National Academy of Sciences Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences.

Session speaker Donald Ort, the Robert Emerson Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at Illinois’ Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, will discuss the global food security challenge and a recent breakthrough in Science (see original news release) that boosted crop growth by 40 percent by creating a shortcut for a glitch that plagues most food crops.

“Plants have to do three key things to produce the food we eat: capture sunlight, use that energy to manufacture plant biomass, and divert as much of the biomass as possible into yields like corn kernels or starchy potatoes,” Ort said. “In the last century, crop breeders maximized the first and third of these, leaving us with the challenge to improve the process where sunlight and carbon dioxide are fixed–called photosynthesis–to boost crop growth to meet the demands of the 21st Century.”

This landmark work is part of Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), an international research project that is engineering crops to photosynthesize more efficiently to sustainably increase worldwide food productivity with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), and the U.K. Government’s Department for International Development (DFID).

“Land plants evolved with a biochemical glitch whereby a photosynthetic enzyme frequently captures oxygen instead of carbon dioxide, necessitating a convoluted and energy-expensive process called photorespiration to mitigate this glitch,” said Ort, who is also the deputy director of the RIPE project. “Crops like soybean and wheat waste more than 30 percent of the energy they generate from photosynthesis dealing with this glitch, but modeling suggested that photorespiratory shortcuts could be engineered to help the plant conserve its energy and reinvest it into growth.”

Borrowing genes from algae and pumpkins, the team engineered three alternate routes to replace the circuitous native photorespiration pathway in tobacco, a model plant used to show proof of concept before scientists move technologies to food crops that are much more difficult and time-consuming to engineer and test. Now, the team is translating this work to boost the yields of other crops including soybean, cowpea, rice, potato, tomato, and eggplant.

“It is incredible to imagine the calories lost to photorespiration each year around the globe,” Ort said. “To reclaim even a portion of these calories would be a huge success in our race to feed 9.7 billion people by 2050.”

Of course, Ort cautions, it will take 15 years or more for these technologies to be translated into food crops and achieve regulatory approval for distribution to farmers. When that day comes, RIPE and its sponsors are committed to ensuring that smallholder farmers, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, will have royalty-free access to this technology.

Other talks in this session will include “Discoveries to Improve Nitrogen Fixation in Cereals” by Jean-Michel Ane’, a professor of agronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and “Genome Editing for Sustainable Crop Improvement” for the staple food crop cassava by Rebecca Bart, an assistant member at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, whose work is also supported by the Gates Foundation. The session will conclude with a panel discussion of how agricultural science is crossing traditional disciplines.

In addition, two leading plant scientists from the IGB will be inducted as Fellows of the AAAS: Andrew Leakey is a professor of plant biology and crop sciences at Illinois who studies plant responses to climate change as well as the development of crops that are more drought tolerant. Ray Ming is a professor of plant biology and an expert on plant genomics and sex chromosome evolution, which could help improve papaya production.


Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) is engineering staple food crops to more efficiently turn the sun’s energy into yield to sustainably increase worldwide food productivity, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), and the U.K. Government’s Department for International Development (DFID).

RIPE is led by the University of Illinois in partnership with the Australian National University; Chinese Academy of Sciences; Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation; Lancaster University; Louisiana State University; University of California, Berkeley; University of Essex; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.


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February 17, 2019 10:15 pm

Sounds good, so nature went down the wrong path. So why is it going to take 15 years to prove ?


Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Michael
February 17, 2019 10:43 pm

Well give mankind a break. 15 years is just 0.0000006% of the 2,500 million years that nature has had to evolve the RUBISCO enzyme at the heart of the Calvin-Benson Cycle.

Curious George
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
February 18, 2019 7:48 am

Do they have a “new” RUBISCO or not? It is not very clear.

Reply to  Curious George
February 18, 2019 8:51 am

I submitted an article on this subject a month or so ago. Apparently they do. The claim was that the growth of tobacco plants was boosted by about 40%.
There’s no guarantee that food crops would see the same boost, or that the change would even work in anything other than tobacco.

Curious George
Reply to  MarkW
February 18, 2019 9:15 am

Let’s look forward to better, cheaper Cuban cigars.

Reply to  Curious George
February 18, 2019 10:23 am

Original Post pictured plants are not about altering Rubisco or a “new” functional Rubisco. The published research specifies it’s gains are due to modulating photo-respiration, which is a downstream dynamic resulting from Rubisco’s dealing with O2 (& not CO2).

michael hart
Reply to  gringojay
February 18, 2019 5:56 pm

Yes, all the dots do not yet seem to connect in this account. It'[s probably their use of the M-word.

People were going to do all sorts of things with protein engineering long before I went to grad school for related things in the 1990’s. Most of those claims remain unrealized, so I’m going to take a lot of persuading that they have suddenly achieved something much greater than was originally promised.

Nature rarely leaves ~30% of the realizable energy on the table for no apparent reason. Low-hanging fruit gets picked early.

Greg Goodman
Reply to  Michael
February 18, 2019 2:58 am

Looking at the photo accompanying the article, I’m very suspicious of the rigour of this group. The straight line from left to right suggests some other variable , ( light or humidity ) is not being correctly controlled in this group of plants.

Looks like sloppy science to me.

Reply to  Greg Goodman
February 18, 2019 5:43 am

Sure, if that picture is representive of the work, then there is zero statistical significance to the results, and zero conclusions can be drawn. But I guess that can’t be right – it is just a setup for the photoshoot – surely?

Crispin in Waterloo
Reply to  mothcatcher
February 18, 2019 9:33 am


Your assessment is premature. There are probably two metrics they are checking: total plant mass including roots, and total “product” which is tobacco leaf mass.

Reply to  Crispin in Waterloo
February 18, 2019 2:00 pm

I did say ‘if that picture is representative of the work’.

I hope it damn well isn’t!

Reply to  Greg Goodman
February 18, 2019 7:15 am

The whole article contains a lot more information. Various plants use different enzyme cycles to fix CO2 and release oxygen. It ends with a key paragraph-Photorespiration may be necessary for the assimilation of nitrate from soil. Thus, a reduction in photorespiration by genetic engineering or because of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (due to fossil fuel burning) may not benefit plants as has been proposed……..However, in an agricultural setting, replacing the native photorespiration pathway with an engineered synthetic pathway to metabolize glycolate in the chloroplast resulted in a 40 percent increase in crop growth.

Replacing the cycle with a synthetic one makes plants grow faster. Remains to be seen what NATURE has to say about it.

Reply to  Michael
February 18, 2019 4:50 am

If you don’t think nature is doing an adequate job, indoor agriculture might be the answer.

On another note … Despite public pledges, leading scientific journals still allow statistical misconduct and refuse to correct it. link Science is a cesspool these days.

D Anderson
Reply to  Michael
February 18, 2019 12:13 pm

I thought they said they proved the concept in tobacco plants but it would take 15 years to engineer food crops and bring them into production.

February 17, 2019 10:16 pm

Here’s an idea. Plants love CO2 and do really well when the level in the atmosphere goes up. Greenhouses have levels up to 1,000 ppm. and the plants do really well. 1,000 ppm of CO2 will increase the photosynthesis by about 50% over ambient CO2 levels.

Rich Lambert
Reply to  Nicholas William Tesdorf
February 18, 2019 4:37 am

Build greenhouses next to fossil fueled power plants. Lots of CO2, water, heat, and electricity for lights at night.

Reply to  Rich Lambert
February 18, 2019 5:54 am

Heck, just farm around them. The coal power plant near me would be perfect. Oh wait. They already do, and the tomatoes are huge, juicy and delicious.

Crispin in Waterloo
Reply to  Rich Lambert
February 18, 2019 9:43 am


Of course you are correct. In Ontario we have lost the ability to do that except in the far north where diesel generators are used. The problem for that, is the CO2 is mixed with a lot of other things.

When direct CO2 fertilisation of tobacco was tried in the SE USA in the early 80s using propane to heat the greenhouses, there was a Big Problem in that the contribution to the carcinogen content of the leaf was dramatically positive. After 2 years the tobacco companies refused to take crop from people who didn’t use indirect heating, and forget the CO2 from the exhaust.

CO2 from natural gas can be better controlled though there are new problems with high temperature burners that produce NO. I have been working on NO reduction from coal combustion with some success. That means the problem is solvable, though at present natural gas burning has not advanced as far as coal on that score.

In China they have a problem now with NO from domestic heating. As they switch from coal to gas, it has gone up. The solution is not technically difficult, and is inexpensive, but the problem remains that people are so prejudiced against the idea of burning coal, they cannot accept there is something to learn from that branch of combustion engineering. I call it the incredulity factor.

So while there is CO2 available from “burning something” in a greenhouse, trapping all the other exhaust components in the food is a problem. Or promises to be in some cases. Better to have a molecular sieve to keep out everything save the beneficial gas(es).

February 17, 2019 10:27 pm

There is probably not much of any real science barrier to producing the amount of food we require on the planet for 10-12 billion people. We see to that every day right now including 25%-30% that currently goes to waste. Fix the wastage and spoilage problem and most of the problem is already solved for our near to future requirements.

Our slightly warming world the last 150 years out of the LIA and increased CO2, along with fossil fuel usage is the reason why we currently have 7.5 billion people. Our real challenge is going to be about how we can govern ourselves better and create efficiencies and opportunities so that everyone can have a stable diet without paying an arm and a leg for something to eat. The people of this planet need to be fixing corruption in local political dictatorships around the world before we will see improvements in outcomes at every level including agriculture. Venezuela is a prime example of what is wrong with the world. This would be the greatest gift we could endow on the world if we could just achieve an improvement in local governance.

Paul Sarmiento
Reply to  Earthling2
February 17, 2019 10:54 pm

There is waste because there are so much excess for the affluent people. Food is funneled into groceries and high-end market leaving the small local markets depleted of farm products pushing local inflation. But the rich has limits too on their consumption leaving a lot of rotting food in the stores. The stores can afford the wastes due to their excessive markup.
Fast foods and restaurants add to this problem by producing more wastes not through their fault but to the culture that develops in their presence.
Another big source of waste is when there is a bumper crop. Farmers would rather let their crops rot than have the farmers’ market crash.

Reply to  Paul Sarmiento
February 18, 2019 6:23 am

??? We have farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and pick-your-own farms. No inflationary forces due to scarcity. Nothing left to rot in the fields.

The atrocities you complain of is not due to high-end markets and capitalism; they are due to government and governmental regulations. Fruits must be of a certain size or destroyed in some places. You may only plant so many acres of a crop. Small grocers in less affluent CITY areas must pay high property taxes, business taxes, insurance costs and theft losses (due to poor government not providing a safe environment), etc. To cover those costs, they must charge more. It is not due to higher food prices.

Tight regs, business fees, licenses, and taxes on restaurants drive up fixed costs. This makes the cost of the food itself a small expense, so to increase sales to cover those fixed costs, proportions are made larger.

You need to get out of the city more.

Reply to  jtom
February 18, 2019 7:50 am

There are also legal liability problems. Stores that used to give way food that was about to expire are now destroying that food because of the risk that somebody might get sick and sue them.

PS: The notion that farmers would let the food rot rather than sell into a low market is ludicrous.
A single farmers output is not sufficient to move the market. The only time when a farmer wouldn’t sell is when the current market price is less than the cost of harvesting. A small profit beats no profit any day of the week.

Reply to  jtom
February 18, 2019 3:50 pm

And that list of government inefficiencies is just for Western pseudo-capitalist countries.

Elsewhere, like in Venezuela, pure socialism reigns and the people starve. Or the tribal dictator currently in control of the country makes sure that the “wrong” people starve.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Earthling2
February 17, 2019 10:58 pm

The bigger problem than producing the food needed to feed 9+ Billion people is reliably transporting it and distributing it. Producing the necessary calories in productive regions is easy compared to the on-going logistics of getting to places in Africa and Central Asia, and not have some local or regional war, ocean piracy, or natural disaster stop the food supplies. And that requires lots of fossil fuel to deliver via ocean and overland transport.
And those transportation fossil fuel expenditures the UN Agenda 21’ers have decided is expendable … along with those people.
Chinese leaders are keenly aware of this long-term food production problem and are undoubtedly planning ahead with an expanding regional military capability. India and Russia are out of the question with their nuclear weapons. Africa is too unstable for China to depend on as a region with too many internal problems and too far away. That leaves SE Asia and Australia.

So go ahead, Australia… destroy your economy, become ever weaker. China is biding its time. Building its forces.

It won’t be too long before MAGA hats in Australia are all the rage — Make Australia Great Again.

John Tillman
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
February 18, 2019 2:58 am

The government of Oz tacitly acknowledges the threat. It has invited a US Marine battalion to Darwin every year since 2012 and has recently begun upgrading its air defenses.

But its forces and population are still hopelessly outnumbered, with an indefensible force to space ratio.

Which is why only a US nuclear umbrella can ultimately deter invasion. But the treaty between America and Australia is much weaker than with NATO. It allows for military cooperation but doesn’t commit to automatic defense in case of attack.

At least Oz has permitted visits by nuclear-powered and armed USN warships.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
February 18, 2019 10:25 am

For example, the PLA Airborne Corps alone is about the same size as the entire Regular Australian Army.

It currently doesn’t have enough long-range transport aircraft to drop or land the entire 30,000-strong corps in one sortie, but China is building more and bigger paratroop and cargo planes, plus could rent more from Russia, or adapt commercial airliners and freighters.

Not that China would even need to deliver the whole corps at once. It could slip in tens of thousands of “tourists” and “businessmen” ahead of the descent.

Reply to  John Tillman
February 18, 2019 10:33 am

Hell, they could be moved aboard container ships, one to each major port and timed to hit all on the same date. Helicopters, armored vehicles, artillery, the whole shebang! Just ask 82nd and 101st troopers, they been sent into action on foot or by truck way more than they ever jumped.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
February 18, 2019 10:49 am


True. Except that containers aren’t wide enough for tanks or other large armored vehicles, nor would many helicopters fit inside them.

Even supported by seaborne landings of whatever type, it would be vital to seize all seven of Oz’ international airports on the first night of the invasion. Or at least to put them out of business.

Ordinary infantry, plus armor and air, could be delivered by sea at the same time, from containers and landing craft.

If Oz is serious about conventional defense, it needs at least three tank battalions, instead of its present one, and an eqaul number of heavily armored infantry fighting vehicles to support them, plus the rest of an armored brigade. But scattered around the country as reinforced battalions and companies rather than concentrated as a brigade.

Reply to  John Tillman
February 18, 2019 11:00 am

I don’t know, to realistically defend a land area that large you would need a couple of combined force brigades for each of those port cities, plus a sufficiently large enough reserve to deploy Mike Force reaction teams to backup those frontline units. As for the PLA, they could field sufficient numbers of airmobile/borne armor and vehicles which would fit into an overseas container to make a go of it. They have an attack helicopter system which is fairly compact, should not be too hard to containerize them for such an op. They could also “trojan horse” container ships, outwardly appear as loaded with regular container cargoes while having “cavities” for larger vehicles and equipment.

I have confidence in the Chinese, if they decided to do it they would make it happen.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
February 18, 2019 11:17 am


Yes, they could use little armored airborne vehicles, like the Russian BMD, although it too is a bit too big for a standard container. A container-capable equivalent could be designed however.

China surely could invade and capture Oz, even in its present state of relative lack of power projection capability. But the regime might prefer just to seize the resource rich north, leaving the populace south to the Australians.

To defend the whole country, the Australian Army would indeed need more than three tank and three IFV battalions. But I was thinking of a rapid reaction force to retake airports in prompt counterattacks before the invaders could bring in large numbers of armored vehicles and improve defenses.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
February 18, 2019 11:29 am
Reply to  John Tillman
February 19, 2019 6:27 am

I remember those! A friend sent me pics of one his Stryker driver ran over at Grafewoehr during a night movement. No one got hurt, other than feelings. They discussed how to get it out from under and finally just drove the rest of the way over it. Graf, fun times for all!

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
February 18, 2019 11:34 am

Populous, obviously.

Reply to  John Tillman
February 19, 2019 3:25 pm

Having worked on a program in which a rather smallish helicopter was to be able to be deployed in a seaborne container (8′ x 9’6″ x 40′), and be ready to fly in a very short time after being unpacked, I must tell you all that your ideas of packing a combat helicopter into a container are unrealistic – existing helicopters are a lot bigger than you think – mainly in their height. We had a solution but, fortunately, after the customer reviewed it, the requirement was dropped.

Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
February 21, 2019 1:02 pm

If the Chinese want to do it I have confidence they can get it done. I have seen Bell 206 shipped in a container, how fast it could be made flight ready I don’t know. And as John pointed out, since Cchina is actively buying up chunks of Australia an invasion is less likely.

Thomas Englert
Reply to  John Tillman
February 18, 2019 1:32 pm

I would predict NATO would respond, especially the US. The US already has a presence in the area plus SEATO responsibilities.

Reply to  Thomas Englert
February 19, 2019 6:31 am

It would turn into quite the party!

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
February 18, 2019 5:09 am

csiro is now for profit so their involvment is explained easily
the unis ditto
if it WAS a glitch at all then the plants would have died out or corrected it
its NOT a glitch but Id bet its got a purpose they havent worked out.
once again its another money spinning patented seed scam by the monopolist aggriaggro
gates is always in on gmo and holds or held a huge amount of monsanto shares so his interest isnt benign in any way.
claims of free use to 3rd worlders usually hold a caveat and if they cant grow crops there now due to wars drought or other reasons then wonder seeds wont make a jot of difference!
if youre truly skeptical over warming them keeping the skepticism for claims on gmo chem crops would be wise, big agri using climate scares as sales points rings alarm bells loudly.
assuming these crops grow lusher and larger( in reality outside a lab I doubt it) then theyre also going to be yummier for bugs
oh golly
more chemical pesticide required
and fertiliser sales… cos that growth will demand more inputs
and the monopoly corporations get more farmers in debt yet again.

Reply to  ozspeaksup
February 18, 2019 8:55 am

The claims of GMO crops have been well documented.

The claim is that the energy lost due to inefficiencies of RUBISCO can be recovered via a more efficient pathway.

Geoff Sherrington
Reply to  ozspeaksup
February 19, 2019 2:46 am

What happened to make you so imaginatively pessimistic?
You have but one life. Enjoy it.
Direct your efforts to solving good, fun problems instead ospf miss imagining ones you know little about. Geoff

Geoff Sherrington
Reply to  ozspeaksup
February 19, 2019 2:46 am

What happened to make you so imaginatively pessimistic?
You have but one life. Enjoy it.
Direct your efforts to solving good, fun problems instead ospf miss imagining ones you know little about. Geoff

Geoff Sherrington
Reply to  ozspeaksup
February 19, 2019 2:46 am

What happened to make you so imaginatively pessimistic?
You have but one life. Enjoy it.
Direct your efforts to solving good, fun problems instead ospf miss imagining ones you know little about. Geoff

Geoff Sherrington
Reply to  ozspeaksup
February 19, 2019 2:46 am

What happened to make you so imaginatively pessimistic?
You have but one life. Enjoy it.
Direct your efforts to solving good, fun problems instead ospf miss imagining ones you know little about. Geoff

Geoff Sherrington
Reply to  ozspeaksup
February 19, 2019 2:46 am

What happened to make you so imaginatively pessimistic?
You have but one life. Enjoy it.
Direct your efforts to solving good, fun problems instead ospf miss imagining ones you know little about. Geoff

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
February 18, 2019 3:22 pm

Australia is being invaded from within. So much land has been sold to China. Chinese own much of the residential property market. China even owns a port. They don’t need to start a war.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
February 19, 2019 6:40 am

I remember when Japan was buying up lots of Australia and the US, the Chinese seem to be going about it in a more”sustainable” manner and doing so in large sections of Africa and South America, also. Japan wanted to secure itself economically, China appears to going more with one of the strategies laid out by Sun Tzu, use your enemy’s strength against them. Many leftists are proclaiming China has embraced capitalism when the have only weaponized it. They are quite clever.

Kevin Lohse
February 17, 2019 10:50 pm

Isn’t photo-respiration a key process in replenishing atmospheric Oxygen? Maybe Mother Nature has the right of it after all.

Reply to  Kevin Lohse
February 18, 2019 12:36 am

You are confusing photorespiration with photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis breaks CO2 down, releasing oxygen, however, plants also absorb some oxygen.

Photorespiration is the plant expelling this unwanted oxygen, mostly in the form of CO2.

Reply to  Kevin Lohse
February 18, 2019 12:40 am

Photo-respiration is when a molecule (glycine) ends up causing the release of CO2 & NH3 (ammonia). It is called photo-respiration because it occurs during daytime (light aspect = “photo”) & as a feature of oxygen processing (as opposed to CO2 usage) by the enzyme Rubisco (enzymatic oxygenase aspect = “respiration”).

An O2 molecule oxygenation by Rubisco leads to production of a molecule (phospho-glycollate) inside a chloroplast, which is sent out for use. Some of that carbon ends up in CO2 as a sequel to processing the above mentioned glycine molecule via oxidation (in a mitochondria).

We say that elevated CO2 reduces photo-respiration in C3 plants because it out competes O2 at Rubisco enzyme complex. Different plants at ambient temperature & ambient CO2 level have different ratios of affinity for CO2 vs O2 in their Rubisco enzyme complex ( ex: sunflower Rubisco is 16% more efficient at fixing CO2 than spinach Rubisco) which is part of the reason elevated CO2 experiments show different degrees of crop responses to
elevated CO2.

For example in microbial green algae their Rubisco will process 50 -60 moles of CO2/ 1 mole O2 processed, while microbial cyanobacteria Rubisco only process 35 -48 moles of CO2/ 1 mole O2 processed; the C3 plant wheat Rubisco will process 94 mole CO2 / 1 mole O2 processed, while the C3 plant tobacco will process 77 mole CO2/ 1 mole O2 processed. I will add that the Original Post refered to % of gains by reducing photo-respiration are for transgenic tobacco plants which, as can be seen, have Rubisco prone to deal with more O2 than wheat (meaning O.P. transgenic yield gains may be different for different plants).

Reply to  gringojay
February 18, 2019 3:07 am

Thanks for an informative and fact filled post, Gringo. Best I ‘ve seen here in a while.

Reply to  Greg
February 18, 2019 10:10 am

I’ll add that for the enzyme Rubisco to be activated an ion must get involved. Ideally this is magnessium; however when manganese activates a Rubisco enzyme (instead of magnessium) the ratio of CO2 (measured in moles) goes down & correspondingly the ratio of O2 (measured in moles) used by Rubisco goes up.

This may partially explain why microbes have such lower affinity for CO2 activated Rubisco than terrestrial plants. This replacement of co-factor magnessium by manganese may (?) also relate to different C3 plants fixing CO2 at different efficiencies; the Rubisco complex in higher plants (ex:C3) has 8 catalytic sites (microbes have much fewer catalytic sites).

Reply to  gringojay
February 18, 2019 3:26 am

So does this mean cigarettes could become cheaper?

Reply to  gringojay
February 18, 2019 5:14 am

so they used transgenic plant to experiment with?
why not standard normal plants for a fair assessment?
oh silly me..that migh’nt get the desired results

Reply to  ozspeaksup
February 18, 2019 8:58 am

You really need to dial back on the paranoia.

It’s standard procedure to first test out a new procedure in the easiest environment. Then once perfected, move to more challenging environments. They don’t make any money until they can transfer this process to a food crop.

Reply to  ozspeaksup
February 18, 2019 9:44 am

O.P. kind of meanders, but the part about transgenics ameliorating photo-respiration loss does have a parallel in research with standard plants. Here’s
what another photo-respiration modification is working through that is not transgenic.

Where C3 plants’ use O2 at Rubisco the multi-enzyme complex (glycine de-carboxyl-ase) of a mitochondria cleaves a molecule (glycine) in a process that results in CO2 (& NH3) release (by that mitochondria). This kind if CO2 release is the event called photo-respiration.

Researchers have successfully modified a connecting part of the mitochondrial matrix enzyme complex (glycine de-carboxyl-ase) that is nucleus encoded (a protein) called the “H-protein. This is one of the lipo-amide (amino acid + lipid) in the glycine cleavage system (flanked by it’s co-lipoic acids “L, P & T- proteins).

In other words H-protein is the structural & mechanical center of it’s multiple enzyme assembly. H-protein keeps water averse lipid aminos poised at the reaction site of the L-protein. This allows more of the carbon involved to enter reactions other than photo-respiration (ie: less “loss” of carbon as CO2.

Technically, the enzyme complex of H-, L-, P- & T- proteins with more nucleus encoding of H-protein leaves more carbon from the methyl (-CH3) of glycine available (less carbon diverted to CO2) to be downstream shunted into an intermediary molecule. Then a 2nd intact glycine + this intermediary molecule + water synthesizes the amino acid serine. In other words , photo-respiration continues to be 2 glycine + water ( using NAD+) —>> serine + CO2 + NH3 (& NADH); but increasing H-protein levels the equation gets less carbon diverted to internal CO2 production.

The dry matter yield increase is about 40% in test plants from up-regulated H-protein expression; yet so far the researchers have come across a problem. They are trying to figure out how to get H-protein over-expression just where they want it & not some of the other parts of the plant because too much H-protein elsewhere has shown undesirable growth characteristics.

February 17, 2019 11:07 pm

No. This is a bad idea and a waste of time.
The main problem feeding the 3rd world isn’t plant biology – it’s the fact they are “3rd world”. Corruption, bad infrastructure, bad practices etc. And most of all – fertility rates.
Large parts of Africa and the mid-east have 6+ children per woman on average.
comment image

Patrick MJD
Reply to  ggm
February 17, 2019 11:22 pm

Not only fertility rates and everything else you mention, unbelievable food waste in Africa. It was a real surprise for me to see such waste in Ethiopia, which in the 1980’s suffered famine on a scale not seen in some decades.

And a lot of the 6+ children is largely due to the male dominated societies that won’t allow women control of their own fertility.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
February 18, 2019 1:24 am

It’s called Islam.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  ЯΞ√ΩLUT↑☼N
February 18, 2019 3:57 am

You think this “policy” is limited to Islam? Male dominated societies are limited to Islam? I think you need to read up on religious history, given Islam arrived at least 700 years after “Christianity”.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
February 18, 2019 6:54 am

Other than a few inbred cults, Christianity is not “male dominated”. That would go against everything Christ preached.

Jon Jewett
Reply to  Patrick MJD
February 18, 2019 7:27 am

Christianity, though, has the teachings of Christ to love your brother and the Reformation which totally changed the Christian perspective. You might want to read “As Wide as the Waters” about writing the King James version of the bible. Not for the details of the theology, but the earth shaking change through the Reformation. Islam is still Jihad with the tradition of beheading the unbelievers, gang raping their women to teach them humility, and selling their children into slavery. It is of interest to note that Islam conquered all of the Christian territories in North Africa, the Iberian peninsula, and were 100 miles from Paris before Charles Martel stopped them at Tours in AD 732. The Muslims, of course, destroyed the Eastern Christian Empire which was completed in AD 1453 with the fall of Constantinople. The high water mark of Islam jihad in the east was the siege of Vienna in AD 1526. A bit of trivia, the bakers of Vienna invented the “croissant” (crescent) to celebrate the Christian victory over Islam. The first Crusade, 1096-1099 happened nearly 300 years AFTER Islam was stopped at Tours. It took them that long to defend themselves. Such as it was.

Jon Jewett
Reply to  Patrick MJD
February 18, 2019 7:45 am

Another bit of historical trivia for your amusement. “In the summer of 1627, Barbary corsairs descended upon Iceland, killing dozens of people and abducting more than 400 to sell as slaves in Salé and Algiers. ”

From an eyewitness account written shortly after the event. ““Among those who crossed the path of the pirates was a man named Bjarni Valdason, who tried to run away. They struck him across the head above the eyes and killed him. When his wife, who had been fleeing with him, saw this, she at once fell across his body, screaming. The Turkish took her by her feet and dragged her away, so that the cloth of her dress came up over the head. Her dead husband they cut into small pieces, as if he were a sheep. They took the woman to the Danish houses and threw her in with the other prisoners….

“Then they began to set fire to the houses. There was a woman there who could not walk, whom they had captured easily. Her they threw on the fire, along with her two-year- old baby. When she and the poor child screamed and called to God for help, the wicked Turks bellowed with laughter. They stuck both child and mother with the sharp points of their spears, forcing them into the fire, and even stabbed fiercely at the poor, burning bodies.”

Reply to  Jon Jewett
February 18, 2019 8:28 am

Now you have done it! Bringing up historical facts really sets the left off, they are going to be SO cross with you!

John Tillman
Reply to  Patrick MJD
February 18, 2019 11:06 am


The Turks besieged Vienna the first time in 1529, then again in 1683, when they were defeated by Polish winged hussars and other cavalry.

John Tillman
Reply to  Patrick MJD
February 18, 2019 11:39 am

More 600 years between the death of Jesus and Mohammed’s writing the Koran.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
February 18, 2019 1:29 pm

Hi John Tillman, – Mohammed died in 632 & did not write the Koran. His follower Abu Bakr became the 1st Caliph, who appointed Umar ibn al-Khattab to follow him as Caliph, upon whose death (644) another follower Uthman ibn Affan became Caliph.

It was Uthman beginning around in 653 who set scholars to start formalizing a Koran (Qur’an) after being told he must “… save this nation before they differ about …” it. Uthman was killed in 656 & succeeded by Ali ibn Abi Talib who Aisha (Mohammed’s widow rallied a rebellion against) fought in 657.

At that battle a legend (written down 200 years later by Tabari) has it Aisha’s troops held up copies of the Koran; which battle, I believe, is the earliest reputed mention of a wriiten Koran. Before the same battle Ali is reported to exhort his side with “… tomorrow you will meet the enemy … make abundant recitation of the Koran ….” ( Ali was killed in 661 by his break-away sect Khawarij because they, the Kharijites, felt he had agreed to arbitrate with Aisha in defiance of the Koranic dictum to fight.)

Reply to  ggm
February 18, 2019 1:09 am

The main reason for high fertility rates is high infant mortality; one needs to look at number of children that survive to have children.

The problem is that culture changes slower than technology. So technological progress reduces infant mortality, but it takes a generation or 2 to change to a culture of small families.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  BillP
February 18, 2019 1:16 am

Male dominated culture that views women as “baby factories”, and women are seen to be a “failure” if she does not produce. I have seen this first hand.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
February 18, 2019 4:32 am

Where have you seen this first hand?

Quite often it is women themselves who want to have large families, and criticise other women who do not.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  BillP
February 18, 2019 3:19 pm


Reply to  BillP
February 19, 2019 12:13 am

Ethiopia seems a classic case of what I was writing about.

Infant mortality was high but has fallen dramatically in recent years

Fertility rate is also falling fast, but lagging the infant mortality rate

If trends continue they will be at 2 births per female in 10 to 20 years.

Now, where is your evidence that men are trying (unsuccessfully) to increase fertility rate?

Reply to  ggm
February 18, 2019 2:15 am

“And most of all – fertility rates.”

Hans Rosling on population growth:

To put it short. Population growth is one of those CAGW alarmism type monsters, which are there to scare you to accept policies politicians want to push. They need scares, if one is not big enough, they will make it bigger until you are scared.

Robert of Texas
Reply to  Hugs
February 18, 2019 7:27 am

It isn’t an “alarmism monster” where people cannot feed themselves. In wealthy countries population growth has fallen, but in many places where there is no wealth and too little food, it continues to grow. It (population growth) can do this because the wealthy nations feed the starving people just enough to barely live on. So a catch-22.

The answer is NOT transferring wealth – it is NEVER about “taking care of” other people. It is about helping the third world cultures to grow into modern ones that learn to control and feed themselves – or just sitting by and waiting for this to happen over time. Eventually primitive cultures either play catch-up or go extinct.

Reply to  Robert of Texas
February 18, 2019 8:53 am

The alarmists don’t mean “they” can’t feed themselves. They mean we run out of resources globally ‘you’ don’t elect to not have kids. They also think the situation is getting worse. It is not. See Rosling.

Reply to  ggm
February 18, 2019 5:18 am

you have to wonder how badly nourished people keep managing to have so many kids?
when birth rates for those wanting kids in 1st worlds are dropping
might just be their low quality scarcer food are at least NOT screwing their bodies and hormones around pehaps.
ie a lack of hormone altering plastics medicines etc?
meat raised on corn waste/soy gmo etc and antibiotics and chemical drenches arent on their menu either
just a thought

February 17, 2019 11:39 pm

This is about transgenic plant experiments; which I welcome. The above photo is Fig. 3 A from team of South, Cavanagh, Liu & Ort research (2019) titled: ” Synthetic glycolate metabolism pathways stimulate crop growth and productivity in the field” is available on-line as free full text (at least via yandex browser).

I’ll point out that in one of the transgenic (“transformed”) lines of tobacco test plants the stem dry matter went up 50% & leaf dry matter went up 33%, so bear that in mind when read about a 41% dry matter increase (total) there is some nuance of relevance. The similar transgenic line with more genes had stem dry matter increased by 44% & leaf dry matter increased by 22%, for an average of 25% total dry matter. Yet a third of that transgenic line with other genes had 12% increase in leaf dry matter (stem ?%), for an average of 17% dry matter (total).

Only 1 of these 3 variants of a transgenic line (AP3 w/PLGG1 RNAi module) notably boosted “total seed weight.”

Since it may interest some WUWT readers I’ll add that the authors noted that the 25 – 41% average dry matter (“dry-weight biomass”) increase came about even though CO2 assimilation only increased 5 – 8%.

February 18, 2019 12:04 am

Photosynthesis evolved at high CO2 levels. It is only because CO2 levels are now very low that photosynthesis has this “glitch”. Every increase in atmospheric CO2 reduces the glitch (called photorespiration). A group of plants, called C4 plants, have already evolved to overcome this glitch.

February 18, 2019 12:33 am


Not sure if we are running out of food or oil, but acronyms seem in short supply 😉

Reply to  Leo Smith
February 18, 2019 12:46 am

One of the reasons why one should always expand an acronym the first time it is used in a document is that they have many meanings.

When the global positioning system was new I attended a lesson on it which began with the teacher saying that he looked up GPS in an acronyms dictionary and got something like 20 different meanings, the one that amused him most being guinea pig serum.

February 18, 2019 12:34 am

“It is incredible to imagine the calories lost to photorespiration each year around the globe,” Ort said. “To reclaim even a portion of these calories would be a huge success in our race to feed 9.7 billion people by 2050.”

or just go out into the fields and sniff the calories as they are burned off.

February 18, 2019 1:01 am

So evolution couldn’t find this pathway in 500 million years, but government-funded scientists did in ~10. Yeah, it’s bullshit.

Reply to  rokshox
February 18, 2019 2:20 am

Sorry, you’re wrong. Evolution is a very limited procedure, once a feature that has been developed in a single-cell, fast evolving organism is lost due to mutations, it will not easily come back. Rather, a genus having the original working genes may eventually outperform it in competition.

Humans are fastening that process by developing food crops.

John Tillman
Reply to  rokshox
February 18, 2019 2:47 am

Many variations on photosynthetic processes have evolved continuously, such as C3, C4 and CAM, with more variety within each of those. Also differences between land plants and algae and between them and Cyanobacteria and among each of those broad groups.

Genetic engineering can invent and insert novel pathways, or simply insert existing preferred alternatives into organism presently using different pathways.

Reply to  rokshox
February 18, 2019 9:05 am

Nature will often settle on a solution that is “good enough”.
Another issue is that that evolution usually works through small changes. So if a particular solution happens to be a “local peak”, it typically gets locked in, since any small change from the current solution is less efficient.

Peter Foster
February 18, 2019 1:21 am

You can get a 50% increase in photosynthesis just by doubling the amount of CO2.
There is a reason for the Rubisco enzyme. the light phase of photosynthesis is semi independent of the carbon fixing dark phase. most plants in todays world in fact write off 50% of the energy of photosynthesis because there is not enough CO2 for them to reduce. The lack of CO2 causes an imbalance in the ratio of high energy intermediates to low energy intermediates (ratio of NADPH/NADP) in order to restore the balance the Rubisco enzyme captures oxygen, producing intermediates that write off some of that energy and also produce another molecule of CO2.
Increasing CO2 dramatically reduces the number of oxygen captured by the enzyme.
As a aside, if the light phase was completely linked to the dark phase there would be very little O2 in the air, it is the fact that they are uncoupled (mainly) and that the light phase is faster, that produces so much oxygen to go into the atmosphere.

Reply to  Peter Foster
February 18, 2019 9:07 am

In 500 years or so, we are going to start running out of fossil fuels, and CO2 levels will start dropping again. Who knows, it may take 500 years to perfect the process they are talking about here.

February 18, 2019 1:25 am

This is no challenge:
1) The Dutch are the second biggest, in gross tonage, food exporter in the world. Yet they are a tiny country. Efficient, industrialised, modern high tech production is the key.
2) Global birth rate is falling, and is approaching maintenance levels. This means in 20 years or so population growth stops.
3) CO2 makes plants more drought resistant, and produce more crops.

Food scarcity is not a problem, and never has been. We are more than capable of feeding ourselves.

February 18, 2019 1:36 am

Borrowing genes from algae and pumpkins, the team engineered three alternate routes..

Oh noes.. There goes the neighbourhood. More protests against GM food. Then again with those anti-GM protesters not eating, there’s more for us sensible people. World hunger and population solved.

February 18, 2019 2:09 am

This has parallels with Malthus’s predictions of doom in the UK in the18th Century! There was a mass movement of labour from the land into the cities seeking better paid jobs in the new industries, and also a massive population growth. As a result Malthus believe that the country would soon not be able to feed itself!

His forecast catastrophe didn’t occur, simply because he failed to take into consideration the emerging Agricultural Revolution which occurred within the ongoing Industrial Revolution: mechanisation drove up productivity on the land enormously!

Any detrimental effects of population growth and even man-made CO2 driven global warming will be similarly provided, simply by withdrawing renewable energy subsidies and letting loose the forces of a free market in energy using technological and science advancement.

February 18, 2019 2:27 am

Fundamentally re engineering photosynthesis processes that have evolved over millions of years.
Don’t hold your breath for that.

John Tillman
Reply to  jeff
February 18, 2019 2:39 am

Evolution has produced many variants to photosynthetic processes, so people can, too. Or simply put those already evolved which we prefer under present conditions into other species without them.

Humans have been improving upon evolutionary processes for over 10,000 years to meet our needs.

Reply to  John Tillman
February 18, 2019 2:39 pm

Humans have been improving upon evolutionary processes for over 10,000 years to meet our needs.

No they haven’t, they have selected for existing traits to increase them and removed other traits not wanted in domestication.
For instance dogs have been domesticated from wolves by selecting individuals that stay immature and puppy like and subservient to the pack leader.
Selective breeding does not in general create brand new improve genes, like evolution does with its extremely high rates of differential reproduction.

John Tillman
Reply to  jeff
February 18, 2019 12:06 pm

The basic C3 photosynthetic pathway evolved just once, billions of years ago.

But the low CO2 levels of the early Miocene Epoch encouraged the evolution of C4 photosynthesis more than 60 times, just in the past 23 million years or so. CO2 had dropped from its mid-Eocene peak, through the cooling world of the Oligocene.

The CAM system has also evolved repeatedly, in a wide variety of photsynthetic organisms:

Reply to  John Tillman
February 18, 2019 2:44 pm

My guess is that the photosynthetic pathway of each plant is deeply integrated into its overall genetic makeup and it will be difficult to swap variants between different plant groups.

February 18, 2019 3:01 am

For starters let’s pump out more CO2,. We know that works; but EurekAlert is dead against that.

February 18, 2019 4:57 am

despite stagnating yields,


February 18, 2019 5:01 am

For those of you who worry about population growth, food production and enough land for agriculture, plus myriad other pessimistic concerns I would recommend Mat Ridleys brilliant book. THE RATIONAL OPTIMIST.

February 18, 2019 5:18 am

“Since 1955, corn grain yields in the U.S. have increased at a fairly constant 1.9 bushels per acre per year, sustained primarily by continued improvements in genetics and crop production technologies (see Fig. 1)”

The trend is linear and does not show signs of slowing down.

Dale S
February 18, 2019 5:45 am

Yields aren’t stagnating. In fact, the *reason* acreage shrinks is precisely because yields has risen, making more marginal acreage economically unproductive. If yields did stagnate and more food was needed, acreage would rise, as rising food prices would make marginal acreage economically productive.

There’s absolutely no reason at all to think that agriculture is incapable of feeding the world’s population when it tops out (reproduction *does* stagnate in developed nation). The greatest threat — in fact, pretty much the only threat — to food security is bad government destroying the local agricultural production and impeding foreign food distribution. Venezuela didn’t transform from a prosperous nation into a starving nation because of any failure in worldwide agriculture.

Anyway, breakthroughs that boost plant growth are certainly welcome (as is CO2 fertilization of crops). But anyone worried about food insecurity should stop worrying. It’d take some cataclysmic event to do that — like voluntarily stopping the use of the fossil fuels used for planting, fertilization, harvest, and distribution of food.

February 18, 2019 5:48 am

““It is incredible to imagine the calories lost to photorespiration each year around the globe,” Ort said. “To reclaim even a portion of these calories would be a huge success in our race to feed 9.7 billion people by 2050.”

Of course, Ort cautions, it will take 15 years or more for these technologies to be translated into food crops and achieve regulatory approval for distribution to farmers.”

Yada yada yada.
Another ‘We have a terrific idea! Give us lots of money to chase our dream.’

Let us know when they achieve their breakthrough on regular crops. And, let these researchers seek funding from the commercial sector.

Don Thompson
February 18, 2019 6:08 am

Agricultural/biological research continues apace, and many gains have the potential to benefit all of us. However, this is a GMO technology. Like golden rice and Roundup-ready plant modifications it will be fought tooth and nail by green interests.

Pa Wi
February 18, 2019 6:08 am

These emerging plant based tech solutions are subsidized by taxpayer dollars..via USDA..and soon patented into elite control..more likely R.I.P.E will be deployed as biofuel uses than to actually feed people..a goal to increase protein amino enzymes in diverse plants would seem more attuned to feeding diverse diets to people instead of energy production for machines and supplying energy storage resevoirs..

February 18, 2019 6:47 am

More Co2 means more plants which means more oxygen and food. Win/win/win. I bet Trump is responsible, somehow.

Working to increase crop yields will be decried by the left as “Frankenfood” and idiots will protest, and most likely the people involved in this will be targeted directly. That is how the left works.

bruce ryan
February 18, 2019 7:01 am

It would be a problem if that wasted energy sorting out Oxygen in plant respiration was what actually balanced global temperatures. I know it’s foolish, just my innate ICE NINE / corporate science/man vs nature thing.
I’ll leave this here, wanted to delete it.

February 18, 2019 2:57 pm

”Crops like soybean and wheat waste more than 30 percent of the energy they generate from photosynthesis dealing with this glitch, but modeling suggested that photorespiratory shortcuts could be engineered to help the plant conserve its energy and reinvest it into growth.”

Is it really a glitch or again something we humans miss? Like DNA that was supposed to be junk?

Reply to  Guido Vobig
February 18, 2019 5:37 pm

The “glitch” is not photo-synthesis, but rather an aspect of photo-respiration (significant in C3 plants). As for photo-respiration it is not a’junk” plants do for no benefit.

Photo-respiration does result in 20 – 30% of photo-synthesis’ “fixed” carbon being diverted to CO2 (ie: carbon lost for plant dry matter). But photo-respiration also results in the formation of NH3 (ammonia nitrogen form) the plant can make amino acids with.

It (photo-respiration) also provides the 1 carbon units to make pyrimid-ines; these accept electrons during the dark keeping pH stable so that when it is light again there is a smooth transiton of pH alteration when electrons get taken from water splitting step of photosynthesis. As a consequence of water splitting electron shunting there is also a shunting of H+ protons; these protons build up to drive ATP synthesis in plants (plants also create ATP via mitochondria).

The molecule (glycine) that photo-respiration makes some “wasted” CO2 from also is used to make serine. Serine (& glycine) are chlorophyll precursors, among other other things (ex: glutathione, ethanolamine, tryptophan, phospha-tidyl-choline).

What the O.P. said was they were able to save ~ 30 % of the plant’s energy (calculated in calories) by avoiding the “glitch” (photo-respiration). This is distinct from the 20-30% carbon mass lost as CO2 (which is related to dry matter, calculated by weight). In simple terms the 30% loss of total plant energy occurs when photo-respiration runs it’s cycles related to nitrogen & carbon.

C3 plants are not doing “junk”, but are utilizing the “glitch” for some purposes. There is a trade off (carbon lost to make maximum dry matter yield) from our human perspective because we covet bio-mass, but C3 plants grow & reproduce taking advantage of the “glitch”.

February 18, 2019 4:02 pm

Constant improvement got us where we are now….

Chris Norman
February 18, 2019 6:39 pm

The world will be in full blown Maunder Minimum by then. Be grateful you don’t see the results of that.

February 19, 2019 3:03 am

Yes a possible colder world is the worst situation. More clouds, a shorter growing season.

So some research for such colder conditions . Perhaps such research should be in both Canada and Russia.


February 19, 2019 3:54 am

If a 40% increase in food production leads to a 40% increase in population, we won’t be saving the world, we will be destroying it.

Reply to  Jim
February 19, 2019 6:43 am

Yep, humans evil. We get it.

Tom Schaefer
February 19, 2019 4:50 am

“And I wish I would be around to see how much greener the planet would become.” Hi probably will be!

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