Eradicating plant enzyme could result in faster growth, more food

Faster growth without peptide.

After five days, rice plants with the extra phosphorylase peptide removed (right) are nearly double the size of normal rice plants (left).
After five days, rice plants with the extra phosphorylase peptide removed (right) are nearly double the size of normal rice plants (left).

A new study by three WSU researchers discovered that how phosphorylase, a chemical that plants and creatures both have, works with photosynthesis.

Phosphorylase has been studied extensively in both plants and animals. It separates put away sugar and gives vitality. Not at all like the creature phosphorylase, the plant chemical has an additional peptide, or building piece of protein, that, up to this point, didn’t seem to do much.

Other colleagues removed that extra peptide in rice and discovered that the plants grow much faster and the rice grains much bigger.

The results appeared quickly when contrasting customary rice with the variant without the additional peptide. At seven days, the plants are 50 percent bigger and the rice grains, at development, are around 20 percent greater.

Okita, Kirchoff, Hwang (l-r)
Okita, Kirchoff, Hwang (l-r)

Tom Okita, one of the researchers among three and WSU professor said, “Why would plants have evolved this piece of peptide that lowers its efficiency? It doesn’t make sense.”

“Nobody expected phosphorylase to have any direct impact on photosynthesis,” Okita said. “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.”

Another potential benefit would be for crops that are grown for bioenergy. In bioenergy crops, like hardwood or switchgrass, you just want mass. Bigger plants grow more quickly could provide more energy, lessening human reliance on fossil fuels.

We’re really excited about this project,” Okita said. “If we can establish that direct relationship with photosynthesis at the biochemical level, that’s the goal.”

The research was done by Tom Okita, Helmut Kirchhoff, both WSU professors in the Institute of Biological Chemistry, and Paul Hwang, an associate of the institute. They even have received a $500,000 USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) grant to study the connection.