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Cafe Synthetique: Next Generation Crops

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USING SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY APPROACHES TO IMPROVE PHOTOSYNTHESIS IN RICE Dr Andrew Plackett, Hibberd Lab, Plant Sciences

Photosynthesis is an essential and fundamental plant process, fixing atmospheric carbon into sugars. Plant anatomy and physiology have been shaped by the evolutionary pressure to perform this process efficiently. However, there are different variations of photosynthesis found in nature. Multiple international groups are pursuing a number of approaches to increase the photosynthetic efficiency. For example the ancestral pathway is ‘C3’ photosynthesis, but in some plants this has evolved into more efficient and productive ‘C4’ forms. I am involved in work that aims to better understand photosynthesis in rice, and design approaches to engineer it towards a C4 template. C4 photosynthesis is a highly complex trait, and in nature has required the reprogramming of multiple aspects of plant development and metabolism across different cell types. I will outline the general challenges associated with phenocopying the complex C4 system, and discuss ways that these could be implemented using a synthetic biology strategy.

USING LIGHT TO PERTURB DEVELOPMENTAL TRANSITIONS IN PLANTS Roberto Hofmann, Jones Lab, SLCU

Our group has re-engineered a bacterial light sensor to function in plants as a light inducible gene expression system called Highlighter. The aim of this project was to aid our study of hormone distribution dynamics in plant development. However, such a system might also find applications in agriculture. One example might be the recent interest in controlling the timing of crop flowering by regulating the expression of key flowering genes. Such control might allow farmers to increase yields by coordinating flowering to the more favourable weather conditions. My work aims at altering the photo response of Highlighter and improving the response dynamics in order to increase the range of potential use cases. Following this I would like to use the system in plants to investigate and modulate developmental transitions including flowering onset.

This talk is part of the Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative series.

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