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2015, DOI: 10.1104/pp.15.00066

Photosynthetic energy conversion efficiency: Setting a baseline for gauging future improvements in important food and biofuel crops

Plant Physiology

Rebecca A. Slattery and Donald R. Ort


The conversion efficiency (εc) of absorbed radiation into biomass (MJ of dry matter per MJ of absorbed photosynthetically active radiation) is a component of yield potential that has been estimated at less than half the theoretical maximum. Various strategies have been proposed to improve εc, but a statistical analysis to establish baseline εc levels across different crop functional types is lacking. Data from 164 published εc studies conducted in relatively unstressed growth conditions were used to determine the means, greatest contributors to variation, and genetic trends in εc across important food and biofuel crop species. εc was greatest in biofuel crops (0.049–0.066), followed by C4 food crops (0.046–0.049), C3 nonlegumes (0.036–0.041), and finally C3 legumes (0.028–0.035). Despite confining our analysis to relatively unstressed growth conditions, total incident solar radiation and average growing season temperature most often accounted for the largest portion of εc variability. Genetic improvements in εc, when present, were less than 0.7% per year, revealing the unrealized potential of improving εc as a promising contributing strategy to meet projected future agricultural demand.

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The Ort Lab is supported by many public and private partnerships, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, the UK Government's Department for International Development, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

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