by Larry Powell
American researchers believe they've found a way to genetically-engineer a dramatic increase in crop production. They've conducted field experiments with tobacco, using a new method which makes the critical process of photosynthesis much more efficient. (Tobacco was chosen because it's easy to modify and test. The same methods are now being tested on other crops including soybean, potato and tomato.)
Photosynthesis allows plants to convert sunlight into energy and help them grow, increasing crop yield.
It could take more than a decade before this new technology can be put into widespread use. But, by fiddling with the internal pathways in the plants' cells, the researchers believe they can increase crop production by a whopping 40 percent! They liken the benefits of their discovery to food production to what the Panama Canal did for international trade many years ago!
The research team was made up of experts from the University of Illinois and the US Department of Agriculture. Their findings were published in the journal, Science.
Among those funding the research were the UK government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.