While indulging in some chocolate doughnuts ( it was the K brand if you were interested), my friend inspired me to write about them. After all, food is my number one passion in life and I’d like to keep away from alcohol posts for now.
So, doughnuts. It is calorific and very, very tasty. It is the white sweet chemicals that makes you high and apparently, stupid as well (covered by daily mail on this study by UCLA) . Sugar is a core part of our western diet and increasingly, the demand has been soaring partly because of the developing countries . Climate change is not the only global problem that we are going to face by 2050, we areexpecting to provide sugar ( and other types of food) for a few other billion people in the next few decades. How is it going to be possible?
Sugar is made from a natural process called photosynthesis, where plants turn sunlight into sugar and use it as an energy source. We and other animals are useless in this aspect, we cannot make our own food from walking round under the sun. The growing demand of food means scientists are looking at ways to improve photosynthetic yield. Professor Howard Griffiths and his team, from University of Cambridge, are planning to genetic modify photosynthesis to improve its yield.
Photosynthesis takes place in chloroplast where it contains all the sugar-making machinery. Although it is a complex machinery and have a long evolutionary history, it is not perfect. Theoretically photosynthesis is only 5% efficient, which means most of the energy is lost to detoxifying itself from the harmful by-products during photosynthesis. By looking at ways to overcome this challenge in plants, we can potentially increase the yield for food production or biofuels with the same amount of light energy. There are a few ways you could do this and the Cambridge team has focused on two initiatives . Firstly, they aim to improve the enzyme activity. Some other plants such as maize and pineapple, have evolved to use a more efficient process called Carbon 4 ( C4) to improve its efficiency. Another group has the idea of broadening the spectrum of “functional” light in chloroplast so plants can use a wider range of light. Both of these ideas are recognised by the plant science community as the best way forward to increase yield. It is a battle between the two groups to see who can win the sweet prize of success.
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite biology song of all times ; I often play this song for my A-level students as an intro to the world of photosynthesis