The plant that only grows when the going’s good could boost crop yields

photo from light microscope, wheat starch granules stained with iodine (Lugol-reactive) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scientists have identified a new mutant plant that accumulates excessive amounts of starch, which could help to boost crop yields and increase the productivity of plants grown for biofuels.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology looked for excessive starch accumulators in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana that had been mutated using Agrobacterium tumefaciens. In one of the mutant plants, the starch granules were significantly larger compared to the controls. Christened NEX1 (meaning NOVEL STARCH EXCESS 1), the researchers believe that the mutation may have affected an enzyme involved in starch degradation. Alternatively, the starch granules themselves may be abnormal and resistant to being broken down for fuel.

Combining high growth rates with large starch reserves is highly desirable for crops that are used both as silage and to feed humans, such as maize.

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