World food supply is predicted to be amongst the biggest challenges in the following decades with limited extra agricultural land. Therefore, increasing crop yield per hectare by genetic modifications is emerging as a key goal of many current research projects, and one way to achieve this is by increasing the efficiency of photosynthesis. Most crops, such as rice, wheat, and barley, utilise the mainstream C3 photosynthesis pathway in their leaves to produce sugar out of water, sun-light, and CO2. However, a more efficient photosynthesis pathway, known as C4 photosynthesis, is utilised in many other crops such as maize and sugar-cane. C4 photosynthesis has higher efficiency in energy consumption and in nitrogen usage. Motivated by these facts, the C4 Rice Project aims to engineer the C4 photosynthesis pathway in the rice crop in order to increase its yield. As such, the C4 Rice Project is one of the scientific ‘Grand Challenges’ of the 21st Century, involving the coordinated efforts of researchers from 12 institutions in 8 countries.
My role is to analyse the copious amounts of data relevant to the project in order to (1) enhance our understanding of the C4 photosynthesis pathway naturally occurring in other crops (e.g. maize), (2) to discover the identities of currently unknown players essential for C4 engineering, and (3) to understand how the rice plant is affected by the incremental engineering of the pieces of the C4 photosynthesis pathway.
My major achievements to date in serving this project are listed below. Identities and specific details are not included due to confidentiality reasons.
- I discovered a previously unknown identity of a key engineering target, namely a gene, that is essential for engineering C4 photosynthesis in rice. The target has been experimentally validated in model organisms and is in the process of being protected before progression to engineering.
- I revealed the positive, negative, or invariant affects of engineering various single C4 photosynthesis players in rice. This is currently enlightening drafting hypotheses regarding the behaviour of the transgenic rice plant and planning the following experiments. Synergetic effects of multiple players will be analysed at a later stage.