A new computer model incorporates how microscopic pores on leaves may open in response to light–an advance that could help scientists create virtual plants to predict how higher temperatures and rising levels of carbon dioxide will affect food crops, according to a study published in a special July 2019 issue of the journal Photosynthesis Research.
“This is an exciting new computer model that could help us make much more accurate predictions across a wide range of conditions,” said Johannes Kromdijk, who led the work as part of an international research project called Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE).
RIPE, which is led by the University of Illinois, is engineering crops to be more productive without using more water by improving photosynthesis, the natural process all plants utilize to convert sunlight into energy to fuel growth and crop yields. RIPE is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), and the U.K. Government’s Department for International Development (DFID).
The current work focused on simulating the behavior of what are known as stomata–microscopic pores in leaves that, in response to light, open to allow water, carbon dioxide, and oxygen to enter and exit the plant. In 2018, the RIPE team published a paper in Nature Communications that showed increasing one specific protein could prompt plants to close their stomata partially–to a point where photosynthesis was unaffected, but water loss decreased significantly. This study’s experimental data was used to create the newly improved stomata model introduced today.