C4 Rice – an Ideal Arena for Systems Biology Research
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Engineering the C4 photosynthetic pathway into C3 crops has the potential to dramatically increase the yields of major C3 crops. The genetic control of features involved in C4 photosynthesis are still far from being understood; which partially explains why we have gained little success in C4 engineering thus far. Next generation sequencing techniques and other high throughput technologies are offering an unprecedented opportunity to elucidate the developmental and evolutionary processes of C4 photosynthesis. Two contrasting hypotheses about the evolution of C4 photosynthesis exist, i.e. the master switch hypothesis and the incremental gain hypothesis. These two hypotheses demand two different research strategies to proceed in parallel to maximize the success of C4 engineering. In either case, systems biology research will play pivotal roles in identifying key regulatory elements controlling development of C4 features, identifying essential biochemical and anatomical features required to achieve high photosynthetic efficiency, elucidating genetic mechanisms underlining C4 differentiation and ultimately identifying viable routes to engineer C4 rice. As a highly interdisciplinary project, the C4 rice project will have far-reaching impacts on both basic and applied research related to agriculture in the 21st century.
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