Turbocharging Photosynthesis

Comments Off on Turbocharging Photosynthesis
Turbocharging Photosynthesis

By 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow to 9 billion, from 7.1 billion today, meaning there will be nearly 2 billion more mouths to feed. As technology brings a higher standard of living to the developing world, billions of people will move beyond barely surviving to aspiring to middle-class lifestyles, further increasing the demand for food.

At the same time that demand is growing, the amount of land on the planet is finite, and the share of that land dedicated to farming is shrinking as fields and forests are bulldozed and turned into subdivisions and shopping malls.

The result of all of these demographic, economic, and psychographic forces is that there is an urgent need for the world’s farmers to increase the amount of food they can produce per acre.

In fact, food production will need to grow by 60 percent to meet the demand from the anticipated growth in population, according to a September 2014 keynote address at the United Nations’ Committee on Agriculture by José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Among the challenges he outlined is the need to reduce the use of agricultural inputs, especially water and chemicals. To achieve this, he called for exploring the use of biotechnology and genetically modified organisms in agriculture.1

If we need to produce more food on the same amount of land, the key is to make each plant more productive. Fortunately, scientists have discovered several intriguing ways to make photosynthesis more efficient, offering the potential to increase the world’s output of food. These discoveries will potentially benefit the lumber and biofuels industries, as well.

Photosynthesis is the process by which plants and other organisms capture light energy from the sun and turn it into food. As magnificent as this process is, most of the light is wasted.

Many scientists believe photosynthesis is only about 5 percent as efficient as it could be, particularly for such key crops as wheat, barley, and potatoes. That means that the same plants could produce 10 to 20 times as much food using the same light—if the process could be optimized.

With that in mind, a consortium of researchers from the U.S. and the UK is working together on a project to explore ways to improve photosynthesis, with $4 million in funding from the National Science Foundation and the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council...

To continue reading, become a paid subscriber for full access.
Already a Trends Magazine subscriber? Login for full access now.

Subscribe for as low as $195/year

  • Get 12 months of Trends that will impact your business and your life
  • Gain access to the entire Trends Research Library
  • Optional Trends monthly CDs in addition to your On-Line access
  • Receive our exclusive "Trends Investor Forecast 2015" as a free online gift
  • If you do not like what you see, you can cancel anytime and receive a 100% full refund