Major Crop Gene Breakthrough
With projections of 9.5 billion people by 2050, humankind faces the challenge of feeding modern diets to additional mouths while using the same amounts of water, fertilizer and arable land as today.
Cornell researchers have taken a leap toward meeting those needs by discovering a gene that could lead to new varieties of staple crops with 50 percent higher yields.Cross section of a mature maize leaf showing Kranz (German for wreath) anatomy around a large vein. The bundle sheath cells (lighter red) encircle the vascular core (light blue). Mesophyll cells (dark red) encircle the bundle sheath cells. The interaction and cooperation between the mesophyll and bundle sheath is essential for the C4 photosynthetic mechanism.
The gene, called Scarecrow, is the first discovered to control a special leaf structure, known as Kranz anatomy, which leads to more efficient photosynthesis. Plants photosynthesize using one of two methods: C3, a less efficient, ancient method found in most plants, including wheat and rice; and C4, a more efficient adaptation employed by grasses, maize, sorghum and sugarcane that is better suited to drought, intense sunlight, heat and low nitrogen.