In Illinois, by boosting levels of three proteins involved in photosynthesis, University of Illinois researchers increased tobacco plant productivity by at least 14 percent and as much as 20 percent. The team targeted a process called nonphotochemical quenching that plants use to shield themselves from excessive solar energy.
Using a supercomputer to predict how much slow recovery from NPQ reduces crop productivity over the course of a day, the calculations revealed 7.5 percent to 30 percent losses, depending on the plant type and prevailing temperature.
A fluorescence imaging technique allowed the team to determine which of the transformed plants recovered more quickly upon transfer to shade. The researchers selected the three best performers and tested them in several field plots alongside plots of the unchanged tobacco. Two of the modified plant lines consistently showed 20 percent higher productivity, and the third was 14 percent higher than the unaltered tobacco plants.