Genetic manipulation of circadian rhythm may open up all-season crop yields

GMO crops: altered arcadian cycleJust like human beings plants too have a biological clock, which prepares them to make optimal use of both day and night – and which helps them to nicely tune their annual growth cycle within the appropriate seasons.

It is a trait that keeps the plants in harmony with nature but that modern society may consider a practical hindrance – having to wait 12 months for each harvest.

Yale University scientists now say altering the activation of ‘morning genes’ and ‘evening genes’ that create a phase shift in a plant’s responsive protein complex can ‘speed up’ time, increasing the sum of biological processes taking place within 24 hours.

This may lead certain crop plants to grow quicker or to flower in different seasons – and may one day help to achieve higher agricultural productivity through multiple harvests year round.

More photomorphogenesis

Key to the circadian rhythm GMO approach would be altering DET1, a newly discovered gene, the scientists write in Friday’s publication in the journal Molecular Cell.

DET1 one suppresses evening genes. That may sound like having less sleepy more productive plants, but in fact the opposite is true as the evening genes are in turn responsible for activating the morning genes a couple of hours later. Having less DET1 it seems helps increase general photomorphogenesis – the thing we would want.

Making up minds on GMO

This new little bit of research will probably do little to change the minds of both opponents and proponents of GMO development. As is usually the case within the latter group, the GMO benefits are exaggerated, whereas the same (in practice) seems to hold true for the risks that environmentalists warn of [or so at least a respected British science communications judge recently stated].

Under continuation of our planet’s sustainability crises it only seems likely that eyes will keep turning to the theoretical possibilities. Next month we’ll have the 7 billionth human mouth to feed – one of the primary reasons why we seem to think forests still occupy too much space on our planet.

Apart from increasing general agricultural productivity perhaps the biggest challenge lies in co-producing enough complete plant proteins with our wheat, rice, potatoes and other staple foods to solve the world’s protein crisis.

Agriculture is not just about food

But food production requirements may not be the only drivers behind possible future GMO development. With so much agriculture around we simply may not be able to ignore the possibilities of influencing both albedo and carbon cycle characteristics, through special crop geoengineering schemes.

© Rolf Schuttenhelm |

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