Increasing the yield potential of the major food grain crops has contributed very significantly to a rising food supply over the past 50 years, which has until recently more than kept pace with rising global demand. Whereas improved photosynthetic efficiency has played only a minor role in the remarkable increases in productivity achieved in the last half century, further increases in yield potential will rely in large part on improved photosynthesis. Here we examine inefficiencies in photosynthetic energy transduction in crops from light interception to carbohydrate synthesis, and how classical breeding, systems biology, and synthetic biology are providing new opportunities to develop more productive germplasm. Near-term opportunities include improving the display of leaves in crop canopies to avoid light saturation of individual leaves and further investigation of a photorespiratory bypass that has already improved the productivity of model species. Longer-term opportunities include engineering into plants carboxylases that are better adapted to current and forthcoming CO concentrations, and the use of modeling to guide molecular optimization of resource investment among the components of the photosynthetic apparatus, to maximize carbon gain without increasing crop inputs. Collectively, these changes have the potential to more than double the yield potential of our major crops.

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Improving Photosynthetic Efficiency for Greater Yield

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