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SIPPE Partners with University of Illinois to Catalyze Photosynthetic Improvements and Increase Yields

The Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) led by the University of Illinois in partnership with the Department of Agriculture of US/Agriculture Research Service (USDA/ARS), Shanghai Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology (SIPPE) of Chinese Academy of Sciences, and other international academic institutions received a $45 million, five-year reinvestment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and the U.K. Department for International Development in an official announcement on September 15th at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

RIPE is a research project targeting engineering photosynthesis research to address global food challenge. The major strategy that RIPE takes is to use system model guided rationale engineering of photosynthesis to drastically improve crop yield potential.

In this project, Dr. ZHU Xinguang’s group at SIPPE will team up with RIPE consortium member labs to develop multi-scale mechanistic models of photosynthesis, covering cellular metabolism, leaf up, canopy and ecosystem level processes; and those models will facilitate discovering new routes to support photosynthesis engineering.

"The core of this new engineering paradigm is to develop robust photosynthesis models by capitalizing the achievements of the past half a century or so, first using models to scan through millions of possible options to identify most feasible routes, and then using biotechnological approaches to engineer photosynthesis for greater yields”, said Dr. ZHU, a principal investigator at SIPPE. "We believe the new research paradigm has the potential to transform future agriculture and help feed the world." 

During the RIPE phase I with a five-year grant of $25 million, a number of options to improve photosynthesis were identified and systematically tested. Last year, in a study published in the journal Science, the RIPE 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 only one percent or less. Two other RIPE pipelines have now led to even greater yield improvements in greenhouse and preliminary field trials. 

"While no single strategy is going to get us there, our successes in redesigning photosynthesis are exciting,” said RIPE Deputy Director Don Ort, USDA/ARS Photosynthesis Research Unit and the Robert Emerson Professor in Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at Illinois. “RIPE has validated that photosynthesis can be engineered to be more efficient to help close the gap between the trajectory of yield increase and the trajectory of demand increase.” 

For years, SIPPE has made seminal contributions to photosynthesis research. Now, it is focusing on the study of systems biology and synthetic biology of photosynthesis through developing systems models of photosynthesis (Fig.1), constructing genome engineering and synthetic biology toolsets, and building modern large scale experimental stations, which has formed a solid foundation to engineering photosynthesis study.  

Launched in 2000, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is a private foundation founded by Bill and Melinda Gates. Its primary aims are, internationally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in domestic America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology.


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