2 September 2021

Improving C4 photosynthesis to increase productivity under optimal and suboptimal conditions

Sales CRG, Wang Y, Evers JB, Kromdijk J - Journal of Experimental Botany, 2021


Although improving photosynthetic efficiency is widely recognized as an underutilized strategy to increase crop yields, research in this area is strongly biased towards species with C3 photosynthesis relative to C4 species. Here, we outline potential strategies for improving C4 photosynthesis to increase yields in crops by reviewing the major bottlenecks limiting the C4 NADP-malic enzyme pathway under optimal and suboptimal conditions. Recent experimental results demonstrate that steady-state C4 photosynthesis under non-stressed conditions can be enhanced by increasing Rubisco content or electron transport capacity, both of which may also stimulate CO2 assimilation at supraoptimal temperatures. Several additional putative bottlenecks for photosynthetic performance under drought, heat, or chilling stress or during photosynthetic induction await further experimental verification. Based on source–sink interactions in maize, sugarcane, and sorghum, alleviating these photosynthetic bottlenecks during establishment and growth of the harvestable parts are likely to improve yield. The expected benefits are also shown to be augmented by the increasing trend in planting density, which increases the impact of photosynthetic source limitation on crop yields.

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