SWEET WAY TO GREATER YIELDS
A promising technique that makes maize more productive even in droughts has now been unpicked and looks set to do the same for a range of other crops, including wheat and rice.
Three years ago, biotechnologists demonstrated in field trials that they could increase the productivity of maize by introducing a rice gene into the plant that regulated the accumulation of sucrose in kernels and led to more kernels per maize plant.
They knew that the rice gene affected the performance of a natural chemical in maize, trehalose 6-phosphate (T6P), which influences the distribution of sucrose in the plant. But they were keen to discover more intimate details of the relationships governing the increased productivity.
“Now we know far more about how this yield effect has been achieved,” says Matthew Paul, who led the Anglo-American team from Rothamsted Research and Syngenta, a biotechnology company that also funded the work. The team’s findings are published today in Plant Physiology.
Plant Biochemist, Matthew Paul, on the mechanisms behind T6P targeting for yield increase in maize. This new understanding provides a strategy to improve yields in a range of crops. Read more: https://t.co/pZp41MYhlM pic.twitter.com/kltrsv3QnJ— Rothamsted Research (@Rothamsted) February 7, 2018
The transgenic maize depressed levels of T6P in the phloem, a major component of the plant’s transportation network, allowing more sucrose to move to developing kernels and, serendipitously, increasing rates of photosynthesis, thereby producing even more sucrose for more kernels.
The team also chose to target the phloem within the plant’s reproductive structures. “These structures are particularly sensitive to drought – female kernels will abort,” says Paul, a plant biochemist at Rothamsted. “Keeping sucrose flowing within the structures prevents this abortion.”
Blue dye, in this cross-section of a maize cob, highlights the rice gene that controls T6P in the kernels’ phloem
He adds: “This is a first-in-its-kind study that shows the technology operating effectively both in the field and in the laboratory. We also think that this could be transferred to other cereals, such as wheat and rice.”
The paper describing the earlier field trials was published in 2015 in Nature Biotechnology.
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About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit https://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)
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The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.