NAPEs into NAEs did not benefit from NAPE-producing
bacteria, so the researchers gave the mice NAE-making bac-
teria instead. Because some people might not make sufficient
amounts of the enzyme that converts NAPEs to NAEs, “This
suggests that it might be best to use NAE-making bacteria in
eventual clinical trails,” said Davies. “We think that this would
work very well in humans.”
However, Davies admits that much work remains to be
done before the bacteria could be tested as an obesity treat-
ment for people. First, the researchers need to establish the long-
term safety of the treatment. Also, the team plans to genetically
cripple the bacteria so that they cannot survive outside of the
gut. Other wise, people may unintentionally transfer the bacte-
ria to others by fecal exposure, which could be harmful to some
people who do not need to lose weight, for example, the very
young, very old, or those with certain diseases.
But if these hurdles can be overcome, Davies says that the
bacteria may be a more desirable and effective long-term treat-ment for obesity than lifestyle changes, which are often diffi-cult to maintain, or weight-loss drugs, which need to be taken
on a daily basis.
Improvements in crop photosynthesis are needed to feed
an estimated 9.5 billion people on planet earth by the year
2050, according to a recent review in Cell ( http://dx.doi.
org/10.1016/j.cell.2015.03.019, 2015). Now is the time to
invest in high-performance computing, genetic engineering,
and other approaches to improve photosynthetic efficiency,
say Stephen P. Long and Amy Marshall-Colon at the Univer-sity of Illinois, Urbana, USA, and their co-author Xin-Guang
Zhu at CAS-MPG Partner Institute of Computational Biology
in Shanghai, China.
Current models predict that, without major improvements
in crop yield, population growth and increased urbanization will
lead to serious global food shortages by 2050. Modern advances
in biotechnology and agronomy have greatly increased crop
yields, but Long and his colleagues posit that these types of
improvements have nearly reached their full potential. For
example, scientists have genetically engineered some crop vari-
eties to increase their harvest index, or proportion of the plant’s
biomass that is in the harvested product, such as the soybean.
However, further major improvements in harvest index are
unlikely if the plants are to retain their supporting structural
components, such as stems and pod casings.
In contrast, decades of crop selective breeding and bioengi-
neering have failed to significantly improve the process of photo-
synthesis, which is much less efficient than its theoretical limit.
If plants could more efficiently harness the power of sunlight to
make food, crop yield would rise substantially. The authors argue
that improving crop photosynthetic efficiency has only recently
become a possibility because of three factors: an enhanced
understanding of photosynthesis and its key proteins, the emer-
gence of high-performance computing to model permutations in
photosynthetic pathways, and advances in genetic engineering.
The researchers outline different strategies for improving
crop photosynthesis, some of which have already demonstrated
potential in the lab or in computer models. For instance, pig-
ments in plants primarily capture and utilize energy from the
visible spectrum of sunlight, which comprises less than half of
the available solar energy. On the other hand, pigments from
some photosynthetic bacteria and algae can capture longer wave-
lengths of light. Genetically introducing these pigments to crops
could boost their photosynthetic efficiencies by 10–30%.
Another strategy involves substituting the plant photosyn-thetic enzyme Rubisco for other forms of the enzyme that are
better adapted to today’s atmospheric level of carbon dioxide,
which is approximately twice that present during much of plant
evolution. Computer simulations predict that an increase in
Rubisco’s catalytic efficiency, at the expense of reduced speci-ficity for carbon dioxide (acceptable because carbon dioxide in
the air is more plentiful now than in the past), could increase
photosynthetic efficiency by up to 30%.
The authors urge that now is the time to invest in research
aimed at improving crop photosynthesis. “Given the 20 to 30
year gap between demonstration of innovative solutions at the
experimental level and provision of seed to farmers, the need to
October 27–30, 2015. SODEOPEC2015, Hyatt Regency
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