World hunger is a critical problem that the world faces today and it is closely linked to many biological stressors that caused this issue at such a global scale. With the global population growing and urbanizing at such an exponential rate, a solution to end world hunger is becoming more challenging for scientists. Statistically, we would need to produce almost 100% more of the major food crops we do today, to have enough food by the year 2050 (Is There Enough Food for the Future?). Unfortunately, biological issues such as rising global temperatures, an increase in anthropogenic atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (CO2), and fast depletion of land, are creating even greater challenges to improve and sustain more crops to grow and potentially end world hunger.
Evolutionarily, natural selection would be quite effective in transforming these crops to adapt to these major environmental changes, however, by a rate incredibly too slow to overcome the fast, irreversible changes we are creating in our atmosphere. Crop improvement is a great initiative to end world hunger- so great that today, scientists are attempting to create a potential solution to ending world hunger by linking it to the plant protein Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase, or simply, Rubisco. My effort in reducing world hunger and improving crop growth conditions would be to make Rubisco more efficient, as it will not only improve crop production but also fix a greater amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Since its discovery, Rubisco has been an emerging topic on creating an environmentally better future. Rubisco is a massive enzyme that sits in the chloroplasts of plants and it is among the critical steps in the Carbon Cycle that is respo to fix atmospheric CO2. Fortunately, it’s also the most abundant protein on the planet (Ellis, 1979); by mass, its as much as 30-40% of a plant leaf (Losh, Young & Morel, 2013). There’s so much of it on the planet, the reason being, that plants constantly make food and photosynthesize.
However, the problem with Rubisco that many scientists struggle with is that it is a very slow and nonspecific enzyme (Lin, Occhialini, Andralojc, Parry & Hanson, 2014). It is nonspecific because instead of fixing and taking CO2 as a substrate to make a sugar, it sometimes takes Oxygen as a substrate and doesn’t make sugar, undergoing a very energetically wasteful process known as photorespiration(Peterhansel et al., 2010). The rate at which Rubisco converts its substrates into products is very slow, rendering the protein rather insufficient.
Scientists are working towards making Rubisco more efficient so it targets only fixing CO2 and thus more photosynthesizing plants, ultimately increasing the amount of food grown in the same area of land. In this process, the energy-saving Rubisco would also “eat” more CO2 caused by human activity, effectively lessening its amount in the atmosphere. Through a series of bioengineering technology, my effort to reducing world hunger would be to produce more efficient Rubisco in a larger quantity around the world, particularly in developing hunger filled countries.
With one million dollars and partnerships with the scientific community (Talent, technology, etc.), creating a genetically modified form of Rubisco is very feasible. In order to genetically modify a protein to be more efficient, I would begin by comparing the Rubisco properties in different photosynthetic plants. One articleYang et al., 2017) suggests that “microalgae are emerging as potential biomass feedstock for sustainable production of biofuels and value-added bioproducts. CO2 bio-mitigation through these organisms is considered as an eco-friendly and promising alternative to the existing carbon sequestration methods.” However, microalgae have a low capacity to photosynthesize. Therefore, I would opt to choose from a selection of plants adapted to CAM (Crassulacean acid metabolism) and C4 pathways, pathways that allow plants to minimize photorespiration (Mallmann et al., 2014).
Once I gather such plants, I will use a series of biotechnological techniques to bioengineer the chloroplast from the plant and then genetically modify it to create a version with an even more reduced ability to photorespire. This energy-expensive experiment will require a great understanding of the chloroplast gene regulatory pathways, the amino acids responsible for the complex catalytic pathways, and vast knowledge in plants that use the C4 pathways, since “only 3% of the world’s terrestrial plant species use the C4 photosynthetic pathway” (Way, Katul, Manzoni & Vico, 2014).
Once that is completed, I will study the growth of my plants and invest the remaining money to create large crop fields in a country that suffers from hunger. Eventually, my plants will grow more food crops within the same area of land. Soon enough, I can expand my plants all around different countries that need more food. This would aid in food hunger along with helping farmers improve their livestock. Over time, I do believe this modified protein will adapt and create more efficient rubisco itself. Although this solution may be a good approach to world hunger, it may not be all that beneficial to all plants because a reduction in photorespiration, causes a reduction in the assimilation of nitrates from soils. Therefore, I would only use a small number of plants per area of land that I have.
In conclusion, we should do our best to prevent world hunger by avoiding all the man-made problems we’ve created. Genetically engineering plants to enhance photosynthesis, and crop improvement may take many years in the process, however, its effects may really help in ending world hunger.
- Is There Enough Food for the Future? – Environment Reports. (2019). Retrieved from http://www.environmentreports.com/enough-food-for-the-future/ Ellis, R. (1979). The most abundant protein in the world. Trends In Biochemical Sciences, 4(11), 241-264. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/journal/trends-in-biochemical-sciences/vol/4/issue/11
- Losh, J., Young, J., & Morel, F. (2013). Rubisco is a small fraction of total protein in marine phytoplankton. New Phytologist, 198(1), 52-58. doi: 10.1111/nph.12143
- Lin, M., Occhialini, A., Andralojc, P., Parry, M., & Hanson, M. (2014). A faster Rubisco with potential to increase photosynthesis in crops. Nature, 513(7519), 547-550. doi: 10.1038/nature13776
- Mallmann, J., Heckmann, D., Bräutigam, A., Lercher, M. J., Weber, A. P., Westhoff, P., & Gowik, U. (2014). The role of photorespiration during the evolution of C4 photosynthesis in the genus Flaveria. eLife, 3, e02478. doi:10.7554/eLife.02478
- Peterhansel, C., Horst, I., Niessen, M., Blume, C., Kebeish, R., Kürkcüoglu, S., & Kreuzaler, F. (2010).
- Photorespiration. The Arabidopsis Book, 8. doi: 10.1199/tab.0130
- Way, D., Katul, G., Manzoni, S., & Vico, G. (2014). Increasing water use efficiency along the C3 to C4 evolutionary pathway: a stomatal optimization perspective. Journal Of Experimental Botany, 65(13), 3683-3693. doi: 10.1093/jxb/eru205
- Yang, B., Liu, J., Ma, X., Guo, B., Liu, B., & Wu, T. et al. (2017). Genetic engineering of the Calvin cycle toward enhanced photosynthetic CO2 fixation in microalgae. Biotechnology For Biofuels, 10(229). doi: 10.1186/s13068-017-0916-8