Evolution as a principle for engineering photosynthesis

As the world population continues to expand, it is predicted that crop yields will have to increase by 50% over the next 35 years. Traditional breeding programs cannot keep pace with this current population growth rate. One of the main determinants of crop yield is the capacity of the plant to harvest light and convert it into sugars through photosynthesis. Despite this, photosynthesis improvement is still underexploited for the purpose of increasing yield. Plants have evolved a wide variety of photosynthesis flavours, some of them more efficient than others. This provides an “evolutionary guide” for engineering some of these traits in target crops like rice. In this talk I will describe some of the strategies we use in improving photosynthesis and some of the problems we face where the interaction with researchers in Artificial intelligence could prove beneficial.

Ivan Reyna-Llorens received a Ph.D in Plant Sciences from the University of Cambridge in 2016 using evolution as a guide to improve agricultural traits. He then worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the same University looking to develop methods for studying plant genomes. In 2021 he started the synthetic biology and photosynthesis group as a Junior Group Leader at CRAG focusing on understanding how global re-arrangements of gene regulatory networks have shaped the evolution of photosynthesis in plants, more specifically the adaptation of the photosynthetic machinery to different light conditions.