From: University of Oxford
Published December 15, 2016 09:38 AM

Study shows wheat crop yield can be increased by up to 20% using new chemical technology

UK scientists have created a synthetic molecule that, when applied to crops, has been shown to increase the size and starch content of wheat grains in the lab by up to 20%.

The new plant application, developed by Rothamsted Research and Oxford University, could help solve the issue of increasing food insecurity across the globe. Some 795 million people are undernourished, and this year's El Nino has shown how vulnerable many countries are to climate-induced drought.

The results of the study, published in Nature, detail the method based on using synthetic 'precursors' of the sugar trehalose 6-phosphate (T6P) – a first-of-its-kind strategy that used chemistry to modify how sugars are used by plants. Rothamsted Research, which receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, identified this naturally occurring sugar as being crucial in controlling how wheat uses sucrose, the main fuel generated by photosynthesis. Sucrose is key to the development of wheat grains. They identified that the more T6P that is available to wheat grains as they grow, the greater the yield.

Utilising the chemical expertise of Oxford University's Chemistry Research Laboratory, a modified version of T6P that could be taken up by the plant and then released within the plant in sunlight was developed. This T6P 'precursor' was added to a solution and then sprayed on to the plants, causing a 'pulse' of T6P, which resulted in more sucrose being drawn into the grain to make starch. When tested in the lab, under controlled environmental conditions, this approach resulted in an increase in wheat grain size and yield of up to 20%.

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