This image shows a tobacco plant that has been genetically engineered for the first time so that all its organic material comes from carbon fixation by a cyanobacterial enzyme. Credit: Alessandro Occhialini, Rothamsted Research

This image shows a tobacco plant that has been genetically engineered for the first time so that all its organic material comes from carbon fixation by a cyanobacterial enzyme. Credit: Alessandro Occhialini, Rothamsted Research

kdropcapsrishna Ramanujan reports in Phys.org that a genetically engineered tobacco plant, developed with two genes from cyanobacteria, holds promise for improving the yields of many food crops.

“This is the first time that a plant has been created through genetic engineering to fix all of its carbon by a cyanobacterial enzyme,” said Maureen Hanson, a co-author of the study and Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Plant Molecular Biology at Cornell. “It is an important first step in creating plants with more efficient photosynthesis.”

Crops with cyanobacteria’s faster carbon fixation would produce more, according to a computer modeling study by Justin McGrath and Stephen Long at the University of Illinois. The study was published Sept. 17 in the journal Nature. Myat Lin, a postdoctoral fellow in Hanson’s lab, and Alessandro Occhialini, a scientist at the U.K.’s Rothamsted Research, are co-lead authors of the study.

Though others have tried and failed, the Cornell and Rothamsted researchers successfully replaced the gene for a carbon-fixing enzyme called Rubisco in the tobacco plant with two genes for a cyanobacterial version of Rubisco, which works faster than the plant’s original enzyme.

In previous research, Lin, Hanson and colleagues inserted blue-green algae genes in tobacco to create carboxysomes in the plant cells. In future work, the researchers intend to combine genes for cyanobacterial Rubisco with genes for carboxysomes in the tobacco’s chloroplasts, the site in the cell where photosynthesis takes place.