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J Exp Bot. 2014 Jul;65(13):3381-93. doi: 10.1093/jxb/eru038. Epub 2014 Feb 24.

Synthetic biology as it relates to CAM photosynthesis: challenges and opportunities.

Author information

  • 1BioSciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37831-6422, USA.
  • 2BioSciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37831-6422, USA School of Biology, Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK.
  • 3Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, MS330, University of Nevada, Reno, NV 89557-0330, USA.
  • 4BioSciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37831-6422, USA


To meet future food and energy security needs, which are amplified by increasing population growth and reduced natural resource availability, metabolic engineering efforts have moved from manipulating single genes/proteins to introducing multiple genes and novel pathways to improve photosynthetic efficiency in a more comprehensive manner. Biochemical carbon-concentrating mechanisms such as crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM), which improves photosynthetic, water-use, and possibly nutrient-use efficiency, represent a strategic target for synthetic biology to engineer more productive C3 crops for a warmer and drier world. One key challenge for introducing multigene traits like CAM onto a background of C3 photosynthesis is to gain a better understanding of the dynamic spatial and temporal regulatory events that underpin photosynthetic metabolism. With the aid of systems and computational biology, vast amounts of experimental data encompassing transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics can be related in a network to create dynamic models. Such models can undergo simulations to discover key regulatory elements in metabolism and suggest strategic substitution or augmentation by synthetic components to improve photosynthetic performance and water-use efficiency in C3 crops. Another key challenge in the application of synthetic biology to photosynthesis research is to develop efficient systems for multigene assembly and stacking. Here, we review recent progress in computational modelling as applied to plant photosynthesis, with attention to the requirements for CAM, and recent advances in synthetic biology tool development. Lastly, we discuss possible options for multigene pathway construction in plants with an emphasis on CAM-into-C3 engineering.

© The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Experimental Biology. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email:


Bioenergy; computational modelling; crassulacean acid metabolism; photosynthesis; synthetic biology; water-use efficiency.

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