Racing to measure photosynthesis: why fast gas exchange measurements matter

One of the grand challenges of the 21st century is to meet global food demand. The circumstances that lead to this issue are: 1) population growth, 2) climate change, and 3) limited genetic variability. Let’s focus on issues 2 and 3, since these are issues that photosynthesis research can help solve.

Climate change is changing precipitation patterns, increasing temperatures, and increasing the frequency of extreme weather events. Generally, crops will face drier and hotter conditions, and more frequent extreme heat events.

Photosynthesis research can help by allowing us to find plants and crop varieties that are capable of maintaining carbon-fixation (required for growth) while minimizing water use in the face of these climate change-induced stresses. Different crop varieties have different traits, and given that there can be thousands of varieties of a given crop, it can be very time consuming to measure traits of interest (such as water use efficiency) in all varieties.

This is where rapid gas exchange techniques can help. In collaboration with Dr. David T. Hanson at the University of New Mexico and LI-COR Biosciences, we developed a method for rapidly measuring the response of photosynthesis to CO2. Measuring such a response allows us to understand the underlying biochemistry. Our method is up to 12 times faster than the traditional approach.

This is fast enough to be able to measure these CO2 responses in thousands of varieties within a reasonable time frame, which could allow a researcher to correlate the data-rich gas exchange measurements with the underlying genetic variation among plant varieties. In turn, this could enhance crop breeding efforts to improve crop yields, stress tolerance, and yield sustainability.

If you’re interested in learning more about the rapid gas exchange method, you can read the article for free (it is open access) here.

Stay safe and stay informed,
-Joe