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Scientists are using ‘secret’ bacteria to grow more food — here’s how it could revolutionize our future food supply

“Overall, our findings provide proof of concept for a route to improving crop development and production.”

"Overall, our findings provide proof of concept for a route to improving crop development and production."

Photo Credit: iStock

With a “secret” component from bacteria, humans may be able to increase crop production even as the planet warms.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool showed how bacteria can boost photosynthesis in plants, helping them grow and perhaps creating a way to increase crop yields.

In a study published in Nature in April, the scientists took “special protein microcompartments called carboxysomes” from a bacteria and put them into the chloroplasts of tobacco plants, Interesting Engineering reported. The carboxysomes boosted the enzyme rubisco, which transforms carbon dioxide into carbon and helps create energy, ​​and “improved the plant’s ability to survive in adverse conditions.”

The researchers wrote that rubisco is inefficient because of a low carboxysome rate and “poor ability to discriminate between CO2 and O2,” limiting photosynthesis in major crops.

“We are extremely excited with this breakthrough,” Lu-Ning Liu, one of the authors and the chair of microbial bioenergetics and bioengineering at the University of Liverpool, told Interesting Engineering. “Overall, our findings provide proof of concept for a route to improving crop development and production that can withstand changing climates and meet the growing food requirements of the world’s expanding population.”

The outlet touted the carboxysomes as “a secret bacteria component.” 

“Studies in the past have shown that climate conditions like drought, increasing CO2 levels in the environment, and rising temperature adversely affect rubisco activity,” according to Interesting Engineering. “As a result, less energy is available to the plants, and food production decreases.

“… For a long time, scientists have been trying to use carboxysomes from bacteria to supply large amounts of CO2 around rubisco in plants as this process is known to boost photosynthesis and crop production.”

The study pointed to an “urgent need” to increase food production with the global population expected to reach almost 10 billion by 2050.

To counter this issue and record high temperatures, there is a worldwide movement to grow crops that can withstand such adversity. One California outfit is changing up the cherry game, developing patented sweet cherries that require astoundingly few “chill hours” to grow. On the East Coast, scientists at Cornell University found a way to grow broccoli at 82 degrees Fahrenheit, 10 degrees warmer than when crowns deform and 21 degrees warmer than the study’s average temperature for observing normal growth.

Maybe most importantly, researchers recently discovered that reducing rice stomata can help it survive in saltwater — which is creeping inland and threatening coastal agriculture. More than half the world eats rice every day.

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