20 April 2010

Giant crops in messianic times

There's a prophecy that in Messianic times, grain and produce will be huge, a grain of wheat will be the size of a bull's kidney;  here's how this might come about:

Researchers have found a new way for plants to breathe. This would allow plants to process carbon dioxide more efficiently. Crops could grow to enormous size.
“We wondered if we could take parts designed by nature, and rewire them together in a mix-and-match approach to get something that’s more efficient for human needs,” said synthetic biologist Ron Milo of the Weizmann Institute
So-called carbon fixation is essential for the growth of plants, which combine carbon dioxide with water to produce organic compounds in their bodies. But while modern crops have been intensively bred, the essential process of carbon fixation has remained unaltered.

The chemical process used by almost all plants to fix carbon is called the Calvin-Benson cycle. Researchers have tried without success to tweak the cycle’s key enzyme, Rubisco. Evolution appears to have optimized the cycle — but according to Milo’s team, the cycle itself isn’t necessarily optimal.
The researchers designed algorithms that would calculate the combinations of all 5,000 metabolic enzymes identified by science, and return those that required the least energy to fix the most carbon. They found a family of enzyme-driven chemical reactions — malonyl-CoA-oxaloacetate-glyoxylate pathways, or MOG for short – that should be two to three times more efficient than the Calvin-Benson cycle.
For now, MOG pathways exist only in a server farm. The enzymes involved are found in various species of bacteria, not plants. The researchers hope to engineer bacteria with the pathways, and then tissue samples of plants.
Evolution might have stumbled on this solution, but Mother Nature also had to worry about pests, nutrients, water and other factors that modern farmers have under control.
“When you’re working in modern agriculture, what you’re trying to optimize is different from what nature is trying to optimize,” said Milo. “We’re trying to get the most food.”

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