Donald Ort is the Robert Emerson Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois. The Ort Lab is engaged in research that spans across many levels—including molecular, biochemical, leaf-level and field studies—in order to find solutions to create more productive crops to meet this century's agricultural demands—the UN FAO projects that we will need to double food production by 2050. His team is improving the efficiency of photosynthesis—the natural process plants utilize to capture sunlight and fix carbon dioxide into energy-rich sugars that fuel crop growth. His team has achieved great progress towards this goal by hacking a photosynthetic glitch to boost crop productivity by as much as 40 percent.
The Ort lab is also investigating the molecular basis of environmental interactions with crop plants and the effects of rising carbon dioxide, temperature changes, and droughts on plants' performance at SoyFACE (Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment), a research facility at the University of Illinois that replicates futuristic climate conditions for crops. Understanding these environmental elements is vital to our understanding of the complicated interactions that affect crops' ability to reach their full yield potential.