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Front Plant Sci. 2012 Jul 19;3:162. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2012.00162. eCollection 2012.

Improving yield potential in crops under elevated CO(2): Integrating the photosynthetic and nitrogen utilization efficiencies.

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Department of Primary Industries, Biosciences Research Division, Grains Innovation Park , Horsham, VIC, Australia.


Increasing crop productivity to meet burgeoning human food demand is challenging under changing environmental conditions. Since industrial revolution atmospheric CO(2) levels have linearly increased. Developing crop varieties with increased utilization of CO(2) for photosynthesis is an urgent requirement to cope with the irreversible rise of atmospheric CO(2) and achieve higher food production. The primary effects of elevated CO(2) levels in most crop plants, particularly C(3) plants, include increased biomass accumulation, although initial stimulation of net photosynthesis rate is only temporal and plants fail to sustain the maximal stimulation, a phenomenon known as photosynthesis acclimation. Despite this acclimation, grain yield is known to marginally increase under elevated CO(2). The yield potential of C(3) crops is limited by their capacity to exploit sufficient carbon. The "C fertilization" through elevated CO(2) levels could potentially be used for substantial yield increase. Rubisco is the rate-limiting enzyme in photosynthesis and its activity is largely affected by atmospheric CO(2) and nitrogen availability. In addition, maintenance of the C/N ratio is pivotal for various growth and development processes in plants governing yield and seed quality. For maximizing the benefits of elevated CO(2), raising plant nitrogen pools will be necessary as part of maintaining an optimal C/N balance. In this review, we discuss potential causes for the stagnation in yield increases under elevated CO(2) levels and explore possibilities to overcome this limitation by improved photosynthetic capacity and enhanced nitrogen use efficiency. Opportunities of engineering nitrogen uptake, assimilatory, and responsive genes are also discussed that could ensure optimal nitrogen allocation toward expanding source and sink tissues. This might avert photosynthetic acclimation partially or completely and drive for improved crop production under elevated CO(2) levels.


Rubisco; carbon; elevated CO2; nitrogen; nitrogen use efficiency; photosynthesis; yield

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