Public-private study on photosynthesis approved
5 March 2020
The board of the NWO Domain Science has allocated 1.7 million euros of funding within the Photosynthesis programme. A consortium led by Mark Aarts of Wageningen University & Research will investigate how photosynthesis in plants responds to changing light conditions. The consortium consists of a collaboration between various knowledge institutes and public-private parties. The Photosynthesis programme aims to contribute to improving photosynthetic efficiency in crops under dynamic, natural cultivation conditions.
How does photosynthesis in plants respond to changing light conditions?
Although the photosynthetic responses of plants to rapid fluctuations in light intensity are crucial to crop yield, these responses – which involve many different elements – are poorly understood. This study shall examine this phenomenon in both the thale cress and the tomato plant, using a multitude of methods. Our aim is not only to acquire a better understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms, but also to gain valuable insights into the natural genetic variation of these two plants. This will contribute to improving the photosynthetic capacity of crops through conventional breeding methods.
Plant photosynthetic responses to fluctuating light are now viewed as critical to crop carbon gain. Theoretical studies and proof-of-principle GM experiments support this contention. Despite their importance these responses are poorly understood either in terms of the short-term physiological responses to fluctuations or the longer term adaptive, developmental responses that affect the morphology of leaves, the organisation of photosynthesis, and canopy structure. All of these are important for canopy light-use efficiency. GM research has shown that improving plant responses to fluctuating lights at the physiological level results in increased yield. This highlights the need to not only better understand plant responses to fluctuating light but to also to identify natural variation in this multidimensional trait. This variation will be essential if we are to use conventional breeding approaches to improve fluctuating light responses and better understand how evolution has shaped the various traits that comprise the plant fluctuating light response. Our programme will therefore combine physiology and genetics, working on tomato and arabidopsis, to produce a step-change in our understanding of how plants respond to fluctuating light and the genetic foundations of this response.