Scientists at the Australian National University (ANU) have engineered tiny carbon-capturing engines from blue-green algae into plants. This breakthrough promises to help boost the yields of important food crops such as wheat, cowpeas, and cassava.

 

Lead researcher Dr. Ben Long said that for the first time, they have inserted tiny compartments from blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, into crop plants that form part of a system that could lead to a 60 percent increase in plant growth and yield. The compartments, called carboxysomes, make cyanobacteria so efficient at transforming carbon dioxide into energy-rich sugars. Dr. Long's team is trying to insert a turbo-charged carbon-capturing engine into plants by mimicking cyanobacteria.

 

Rubisco, the enzyme that fixes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, is slow and finds it difficult to differentiate between carbon dioxide and oxygen, leading to wasteful energy loss. Cyanobacteria, however, uses a 'CO2 concentrating mechanism' to deliver large amounts of the gas into their carboxysomes, increasing the speed of CO2 transformation into sugar and minimizes oxygen reactions. The Rubisco enzyme inside cyanobacteria captures carbon dioxide and generates sugars about three times faster than the Rubisco found in plants.

 

For more details, read the ANU news release.