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Shedding light on how plants use sunlight

Two researchers, Crysten and Ian Blaby at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, are using algae to go deeper into the way plants harness and utilize energy from the sun.

Ian’s research focuses on plant metabolism, the processes that surround turning sunlight into plant sugars. Beyond determining the function of these processes, he hopes to potentially shift natural processes toward creating biofuels.

“If we can have an energy source that is being produced by plants, that would mean the carbon is being fixed via energy from the sun and taking CO2 out of the atmosphere,” he said. “So, when the energy source is burned, it’s only putting back what CO2 it took out in the first place; it’s close to carbon neutral,” Ian said here.

Algae are particularly well suited for the team’s research because they reproduce quickly, have an environment that is easy to manipulate and do not require much space, unlike many other agricultural crops.

Right now, an astonishing half of plant genes have unknown functions, 40 percent require guesswork and only around 10 percent have a well-understood role in plant biology. Understanding how plants harness the sun with current knowledge is like trying to understand the form and function of a building with only 10 percent of the blueprints.

After subjecting hundreds of thousands of algae to gene mutations, they hope to determine which genes correspond to increased survival rates. For example, how does a particular mutation affect growth rates with little access to light?

Keep an eager eye for their findings! Click here to read the full article.

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