Common Grass Species Contains More Efficient Enzymes, May Help Crop Yields

An Australian research team has discovered an enzyme in a common grass species that is extremely efficient at absorbing carbon dioxide. If the enzyme was transplanted into crop species, yields could be improved substantially. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Nature Plants.

The Rubisco enzyme (named as such because the actual name is ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase) is responsible for capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide, an important step in the photosynthetic process. Plants can capture more carbon dioxide as Rubisco works more efficiently. This carbon dioxide is eventually converted into sugars that feed the plant. As global levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide continue to rise, scientists are working on crops that can take advantage of the extra carbon dioxide to improve yields.

Scientists from the Australian National University discovered that Panicum grasses, more commonly known as panicgrass, have their own versions of the Rubisco enzyme. The team isolated the enzymes and found that they were more efficient than those of other plant species. By using a mathematical computer simulation, the team identified the best and most efficient enzymes. These particular enzymes were adaptable and efficient in both hot and cold conditions. The team attempted to transplant the enzymes into tobacco plants but found they were incompatible. The researchers believe the process would work better in other plant species but also intend to research ways to get around this problem. If scientists manage to successfully transplant these efficient enzymes, crop yields could be boosted.

The team’s findings may help improve crop yields, especially during environmental changes caused by global warming. If bioengineering allows scientists to transplant panicgrass enzymes into crop plants, such as wheat, the crops will become more adaptable and efficient. Further research is needed to determine which species are the best targets for these transplants. Current bioengineering methods will also need improvements in order to successfully transplant the enzymes.


Sharwood et al. Temperature responses of Rubisco from Paniceae grasses provide opportunities for improving C3 photosynthesis. Nature Plants (2016).

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