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Photosynthesis - IOF Fellow discovers different patterns of plant veins

Biologists at Brown University have discovered a large group or "family" of grasses that have evolved to develop a more efficient means of photosynthesis than other species. This scientific research is supported by a Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship.

Photosynthesis is the process whereby plants and other organisms convert light energy from the sun into chemical energy. This energy can be used to fuel organisms. The whole process occurs in plants, algae and in different species of bacteria as well.

This research demonstrated that plants have different patterns of veins which make them more efficient. Biologists referred to grasses that create their food in warm, sunny and dry conditions with the designation of "C4". Grasses without that trait are labelled as "C3".

C3 and C4 – a short explanation

  • C3 plant: A plant in which the CO2 is first fixed into a compound containing three carbon atoms before entering the Calvin cycle of photosynthesis.
  • C4 plant: A plant in which the CO2 is first fixed into a compound containing four carbon atoms before entering the Calvin cycle of photosynthesis.

The group of scientists wondered why that disparity still exists. They used genetic data and organized the grass species in the evolutionary tree. Moreover, they are using anatomical traits of ancestral grasses which do not exist nowadays to do their research. Paradoxically, to understand the C4 evolution, the researchers focused on the anatomy of C3 grasses. By analysing the anatomy of the leaf it became clear that the arrangements of the cells that surround the leaf veins ("bundle sheath" cells) are morphologically different within C3 species. When the temperature increases or plants become stressed, they stop taking CO2 and create just a shortage within the leaf.

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