Media release: Celebrating C4 Photosynthesis

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World experts planning the creation of super-crops that are able to adapt to expected climate changes and will feed future generations met at the beginning of April in Canberra.

The scientists are working to improve the productivity of crops such as wheat and rice by supercharging them using a more efficient type of photosynthesis called C4, a faster pathway to transform sunlight into food than the ancient C3 photosynthetic route. The conference marked fifty years since the discovery of C4 photosynthesis in Australia.

“The discovery of C4 photosynthesis created a whole new field in biology and more importantly, it has opened a range of promising solutions to predicted food shortages during the next decades,” says ANU Professor Susanne von Caemmerer, Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis commemorated this discovery by Hal Hatch and Roger Slack in 1966 and its significance in today’s plant biology and agricultural research by holding the “C4 Photosynthesis Conference: past, present and future”. The Conference brought together world experts in the field of C4 photosynthesis ranging from molecular genetics and ecophysiology to applied efforts to engineer C4 into C3 crops.

“The C4 Conference celebrated the past, but also the exciting present and future C4 research around the world. Australian researchers are taking a pivotal role in projects that have a huge potential to increase food production and help humanity adapt to expected climate change conditions,” says ANU Professor Robert Furbank, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis.

C4 plants are better at producing more food in hotter, harsher conditions, such as those expected with a warmer climate.

“Plants that use the C4 photosynthesis pathway, such as sugarcane and maize, are the most productive plants on the planet and the reason for this is that they are supercharged, by using a biochemical pump to concentrate atmospheric CO2 deep within the leaves. They are like the Ferrari of the plant world. The question is, can we make humanity’s main staples, wheat and rice, photosynthesise like C4 plants do? By better understanding how C4 plants work, we believe we can and we are working on making this a reality by 2030,” says Professor Furbank.

As part of the C4 Photosynthesis Conference, the public had the opportunity to attend a lecture on “the Evolution of C4 Photosynthesis” at the Shine Dome, Australian Academy of Science, preceded by a networking event at the same venue.

 The C4 Photosynthesis Conference was sponsored by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis, the Australian National University, The Journal of Experimental Botany, Western Sydney University, Photon Systems Instruments, Li-Cor Biosciences, Waltz, Australian Society of Plant Scientists, QUBIT Systems and CSIRO.