From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published February 21, 2012 07:55 AM


Photosynthesis is the process whereby biological systems convert sunlight into food and the source of all the fossil fuels we burn today. In a way it is the ultimate source of all energy supplies that we use. Glasgow scientists Professor Lee Cronin, Gardiner Chair of Chemistry, and Professor Mike Blatt, Regius Professor of Botany, will lead the UK efforts in two of four transatlantic research teams exploring ways to overcome limitations in photosynthesis which could then lead to ways of significantly increasing the yield of important crops for food production or sustainable bioenergy.


Photosynthesis is a chemical process that converts carbon dioxide into organic compounds, especially sugars, using the energy from sunlight. Photosynthesis occurs in plants, algae, and many species of bacteria, but not in archaea. It is the source of energy for nearly all life on earth, either directly, through primary production, or indirectly, as the ultimate source of the energy in their food. The rate of energy capture by photosynthesis is immense, approximately 100 terawatts, which is about six times larger than the power consumption of human civilization.

This research could possibly even lead to the blueprint to make a fully artificial leaf capable of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Professor Janet Allen, Director of Research at BBSRC, said: "Photosynthesis has evolved in plants, algae and some other bacteria and in each case the mechanism does the best possible job for the organism in question.

"However, there are trade-offs in nature which mean that photosynthesis is not as efficient as it could be. There is scope to improve it for processes useful to us, for example increasing the amount of food crop or energy biomass a plant can produce from the same amount of sunlight."

Three of the research projects will focus on improving a reaction driven by an enzyme called Rubisco, which is a widely recognized bottleneck in the photosynthesis pathway. By attempting to transfer parts from algae and bacteria into plants, the researchers hope to make the environment in the plants' cells around Rubisco richer in carbon dioxide which will allow photosynthesis to produce sugars more efficiently.

Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase oxygenase, commonly known by the shorter name RuBisCO, is an enzyme involved in the first major step of carbon fixation, a process by which atmospheric carbon dioxide is converted by plants to energy-rich molecules such as glucose. RuBisCo is an abbreviation for Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase.

The fourth project aims to harness the excess light energy that reaches photosynthetic organisms but cannot be used due to bottlenecks in natural photosynthesis. This project aims to transfer high energy electrons from a cyanobacterial cell where there is excess that would otherwise be turned to heat to an adjacent cell which will be engineered to produce food or fuel products.

The projects are:

CAPP (Combining algal and plant photosynthesis)

EPP (Exploiting prokaryotic proteins to improve plant photosynthetic efficiency)

MAGIC (Multi-level Approaches for Generating Increased CO2)

Plug and Play Photosynthesis for RuBisCO independent fuels

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