The future of food

Rice
28 November 2016

By 2050, the population of the world will be nine billion. That’s a lot of mouths to feed.

With more than 850 million people already going hungry each day, and two-thirds of the world’s cultivated land currently at risk of degradation, food security is an increasingly urgent issue.

In partnership with the ANU Research School of Biology, scientists are working on it by improving on nature.

Plant scientists at the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre for Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis are turbocharging photosynthesis to increase crop yield.

“The photosynthetic process is a fairly inefficient one,” explains Professor Murray Badger.

“If we look at sunlight falling on a leaf as being 100 per cent of what’s available to be converted into useful biomass and sugars, then only about four to six per cent of that incident light energy is converted through to those final sugars. So, small changes made in improving the inefficiencies of various aspects of photosynthesis can make big differences.

“This will deliver outcomes for both Australian and international agriculture, world food security and for collaboration with appropriate industry partners.”

The “translational” aspect of the Centre’s research refers to the application of these findings from the lab to the field, potentially resulting in a new agricultural revolution.

It’s a real-world outcome that PhD student Florence Danila understands better than most.

Working at the Centre under the supervision of experts from ANU, CSIRO and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Florence is trying to compare photosynthesis transport mechanisms between different crops.

But while she is at work in the lab, Florence’s parents are at work in the rice fields in her home country of the Philippines.

“My interest in plant science research probably began with them,” she says.

“To me this research is fascinating, but knowing that it could also contribute a solution to how we will feed all the people sharing this planet, that’s very rewarding.”

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