In a breakthrough for ag research, researchers have shown that soybeans can be transgenically altered to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis and significantly boost crop yields.

Researchers with the Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency, an international project based at the University of Illinois, have proven for the first time that "multigene bioengineering of photosynthesis increases the yield of a major food crop in field trials,” the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research said.

“Results of this magnitude couldn’t come at a more crucial time,” FFAR said. “The most recent UN report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022, found that in 2021 nearly 10% of the world population was hungry, a situation that has been steadily worsening over the last few years and eclipsing all other threats to global health in scale.”

In five transgenic lines, researchers found the average yield increase was 24.5% compared to “wild-type” soybeans expressing the same “VPZ” proteins, with 33% the largest increase.

“Our research shows an effective way to contribute to food security for the people who need it most while avoiding more land being put into production. Improving photosynthesis is a major opportunity to gain the needed jump in yield potential,” said the study's lead author, Amanda De Souza.

“Photosynthesis, the natural process all plants use to convert sunlight into energy and yield, is a surprisingly inefficient 100-plus-step process that RIPE researchers have been working to improve for more than a decade,” FFAR said. “In this first-of-its-kind work, published in the journal Science, the group improved the VPZ construct within the soybean plant to improve photosynthesis and then conducted field trials to see if yield would be improved as a result.”

RIPE is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, FFAR, and the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.