LSU Biologist Works to Solve Future Food Shortage Crisis

Gates Foundation reinvests in research to boost photosynthesis

09/18/2017

James Moroney

LSU Department of Biological Sciences Glenda Wooters Streva Alumni Professor James Moroney's research may help solve the future global food crisis.Photo Credit: Claire Benjamin, University of Illinois

BATON ROUGE – Food production must increase by 50 percent to support the world’s population by 2050, which is estimated to increase to about 10 billion, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization. In an effort to develop innovative solutions to this potential food shortage crisis, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation initiated the Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency, or the RIPE project, and LSU Department of Biological Sciences Glenda Wooters Streva Alumni Professor James Moroney is playing an active role in this undertaking.

Moroney’s work with the RIPE project began in 2011, when he was one of only 13 scientists invited to a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation workshop to share his views on how photosynthesis research could positively impact agricultural productivity. Since that initial meeting, the RIPE project researchers have made significant gains in their work to create a more resilient high-yield plant.

“This project is like a dream,” Moroney said. “I always considered my work on algae to be basic research. I have been interested in how algae became so efficient at capturing CO2 for photosynthesis. It is really fun to see that our work on algal photosynthesis might someday help improve crops and perhaps boost food production.”

RIPE is engineering staple food crops to more efficiently turn the sun’s energy into food to sustainably increase worldwide food productivity. RIPE researchers have simulated the 170-step process of photosynthesis. They have used their computer models to identify seven potential pipelines to improve photosynthesis. Last year, in a study published in the journal Science, the team demonstrated that one of these approaches could increase crop productivity by as much as 20 percent – a dramatic increase over typical annual yield gains of one percent or less.

Last week, the RIPE project received a $45 million, five-year reinvestment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and the U.K. Department for International Development to enable the researchers to continue their work to address the global food challenge. Moroney's research at LSU will receive nearly $1 million from this reinvestment.

“Our modeling predicts that several of these improvements can be combined to achieve additive yield increases, providing real hope that a 50 percent yield increase in just three decades is possible,” said RIPE Director Stephen Long, the Gutgsell Endowed Professor of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois. “With the reinvestment, a central priority will be to move these improved photosynthesis traits into commodity crops of the developed world, like soybeans, as well as crops that matter in the developing world, including cassava and cowpeas.”

RIPE and its funders will ensure that their high-yielding food crops are globally available and affordable for smallholder farmers to help feed the world’s hungriest and reduce poverty, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

RIPE is led by the University of Illinois in partnership with LSU, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, University of Essex, Lancaster University, Australian National University, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and University of California, Berkeley.

 

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Contact Alison Satake
LSU Media Relations
225-578-3870
asatake@lsu.edu