University of Illinois researchers have built a better plant, one that produces more leaves and fruit without needing extra fertilizer. The researchers accomplished the feat using a computer model that mimics the process of evolution. Theirs is the first model to simulate every step of the photosynthetic process.
The research findings appear in the October issue of Plant Physiology, and will be presented today at the BIO-Asia 2007 Conference in Bangkok, Thailand. The research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
Photosynthesis converts light energy into chemical energy in plants, algae, phytoplankton and some species of bacteria and archaea. Photosynthesis in plants involves an elaborate array of chemical reactions requiring dozens of protein enzymes and other chemical components. Most photosynthesis occurs in a plants leaves.
The question we wanted to ask, was, Can we do better than the plant, in terms of productivity? said principal investigator Steve Long, a professor of plant biology and crop sciences at the University of Illinois.
It wasnt feasible to tackle this question with experiments on actual plants, Long said. With more than 100 proteins involved in photosynthesis, testing one protein at a time would require an enormous investment of time and money.
But now that we have the photosynthetic process in silico, we can test all possible permutations on the supercomputer, he said.
The researchers first had to build a reliable model of photosynthesis, one that would accurately mimic the photosynthetic response to changes in the environment. This formidable task relied on the computational resources available at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.
Xin-Guang Zhu, a research scientist at the center and in plant biology, worked with Long and Eric de Sturler, formerly a specialist in computational mathematics in computer sciences at Illinois, to realize this model.
|Contact: Diana Yates|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign