Research, Science & environment

A way to grow plants with less water

Researchers at UC Berkeley have discovered a key protein that improves the efficiency of photosynthesis, reducing water use by 25 percent

Corn field on University of Illinois South Farms.

Crops possibly can be grown with significantly less water by altering a gene involved in regulating photosynthesis, according to new research by a team that included UC Berkeley scientists.

Berkeley professor Krishna Niyogi, chair of the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, and his lab found that a protein called PsbS is involved in regulating photosynthetic light harvesting. They thought that increasing the amount of this protein in a plant might make its photosynthesis more efficient.

The idea was tested in field trials at the University of Illinois, where increasing PsbS was found to improve the water-use efficiency of plants — the ratio of carbon dioxide entering the plant to water escaping — by 25 percent without significantly sacrificing photosynthesis or yields. That means the plants were able to thrive on 25 percent less water.

The study was published today in the journal Nature Communications. The research is part of the international research project Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) that is supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

To learn more about how this technology works, watch the video above. 

Read the full story on RIPE's website