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Dann, Marcel; Leister, Dario (2017): Enhancing (crop) plant photosynthesis by introducing novel genetic diversity. In: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences, Vol. 372, No. 1730, 20160380
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Although some elements of the photosynthetic light reactions might appear to be ideal, the overall efficiency of light conversion to biomass has not been optimized during evolution. Because crop plants are depleted of genetic diversity for photosynthesis, efforts to enhance its efficiency with respect to light conversion to yield must generate new variation. In principle, three sources of natural variation are available: (i) rare diversity within extant higher plant species, (ii) photosynthetic variants from algae, and (iii) reconstruction of no longer extant types of plant photosynthesis. Here, we argue for a novel approach that outsources crop photosynthesis to a cyanobacterium that is amenable to adaptive evolution. This system offers numerous advantages, including a short generation time, virtually unlimited population sizes and high mutation rates, together with a versatile toolbox for genetic manipulation. On such a synthetic bacterial platform, 10 000 years of (crop) plant evolution can be recapitulated within weeks. Limitations of this system arise from its unicellular nature, which cannot reproduce all aspects of crop photosynthesis. But successful establishment of such a bacterial host for crop photosynthesis promises not only to enhance the performance of eukaryotic photosynthesis but will also reveal novel facets of the molecular basis of photosynthetic flexibility. This article is part of the themed issue 'Enhancing photosynthesis in crop plants: targets for improvement'.