The University of Illinois has announced a $13 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in support of a research initiative aimed at enhancing the photosynthetic productivity and yields of key staple food crops globally.
Building on a five-year, $45 million investment made in 2017 by the Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and the U.K. Government's Department for International Development, the grant will enable the project, Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), to add resources and personnel and accelerate the transfer of its successes to food crops such as soybeans, rice, cassava, and cowpea.
The RIPE project is focused on providing farmers, especially those in the world's poorest countries, with seeds that result in substantially greater crop yields without requiring substantially greater inputs of fertilizer and water. To date, the project has modeled photosynthesis to virtually tweak the photosynthetic process and pinpoint the best opportunities for boosting crop productivity. The additional funding from the Gates Foundation will be used to test the model's predictions and translate yield-boosting technologies to food crops more quickly.
According to RIPE director Stephen Long, the models predict that by combining several strategies, a 50 percent increase in yields is possible, even as increases of 20 percent have already been achieved. "Time is of the essence — especially as we look to a future filled with more people and a dramatically different climate," said Long, the Ikenberry Endowed University Chair of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at the University of Illinois and Distinguished Professor in Crop Sciences at Lancaster University. "We must future-proof our food supply today to ensure that these technologies are available when we need them."
(Photo credit: University of Illinois)