Meeting the Global Food Demand of the Future by Engineering Crop Photosynthesis and Yield Potential

A paper published in the journal Cell argues that the current rate of increase in crop yields is insufficient to meet business-as-usual anticipated growth in demand for food (it cites one projection that the world will need 85% more primary foodstuffs by 2050, relative to 2013).

The approach adopted to date by Green Revolution breeders – breeding crops partition more of their biomass into the harvested product (ie. grain versus stem) offers little potential for further yield increases. The paper argues that one area where so far there has been little or no improvement but where this potential, is in improving the conversion efficiency of solar energy via photosynthesis into plant biomass.

The paper outlines a number of possible and emerging ways that this could be done.


Increase in demand for our primary foodstuffs is outstripping increase in yields, an expanding gap that indicates large potential food shortages by mid-century. This comes at a time when yield improvements are slowing or stagnating as the approaches of the Green Revolution reach their biological limits. Photosynthesis, which has been improved little in crops and falls far short of its biological limit, emerges as the key remaining route to increase the genetic yield potential of our major crops. Thus, there is a timely need to accelerate our understanding of the photosynthetic process in crops to allow informed and guided improvements via in-silico-assisted genetic engineering. Potential and emerging approaches to improving crop photosynthetic efficiency are discussed,and the new tools needed to realize these changes are presented.


Long SP, Marshall-Colon A and Zhu X-G (2015). Meeting the Global Food Demand of the Future by Engineering Crop Photosynthesis and Yield Potential, Cell, 161, 1, p56–66,

You can access the paper here.

Articles discussing the paper can be found here and here.

31 Mar 2015