Less is More? WSU Researchers Receive $500k Grant to Discover if Peptide Removal Equals Plant Growth

In *All, Agricultural Systems by Ag is America

Three researchers from Washington State University received a $500,000 USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant to study the connection between phosphorylase and photosynthesis.

Professors Tom Okita and Helmut Kirchhoff, as well as associate Paul Hwang, all of the Institute of Biological Chemistry, believe the two processes could be related due to the reaction changes in growth when plant phosphorylase is altered.

Both plants and animals have phosphorylase, an enzyme that breaks down stored sugar for energy. Plant phosphorylase has an extra peptide that was not considered to be of importance. However, when colleagues of Okita removed the extra peptide in rice, they discovered the plants grew faster and bigger.

“Why would plants have evolved this piece of peptide that lowers its efficiency?” Okita asked.

Faster-growing, larger plants could mean feeding more people more easily, and more crops for bioenergy, which could lessen reliance on fossil fuels.

There are also potential drawbacks. When food plants grow bigger, both the edible grain and the rest of the plant increase in size. More biomass requires more energy to grow.

Still, a link between phosphorylase and photosynthesis could have a great impact on farming.

“Nobody expected phosphorylase to have any direct impact on photosynthesis,” said Okita “This is completely out there, scientifically speaking, but it could have a huge impact when it comes to feeding people. If we can get grains that grow bigger and faster, that’s huge.”

Learn more about the study here.

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