University of Essex involved in major Bill Gates Foundation project to benefit farmers

The University of Essex is involved in a major research project awarded to the University of Illinois, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The aim of the �16million (25 million US dollars), five-year project is to explore new ways to improve plant photosynthesis ? the process that enables plants to harvest energy from the sun and convert it to products for food and fuel.

The project, titled RIPE – Realising Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency, has the potential to benefit farmers around the world by increasing productivity of staple food crops.

Led by the University of Illinois, the project will bring together an international team of scientists in a joint project to exploit our understanding of the fundamentals of photosynthesis to increase crop yields of the major “C3 crops” such as rice, cassava and beans. This project is particularly timely given that the United Nations has predicted that food production will have to increase by around 70 per cent in the next 35 years to meet the world’s booming population.

The University of Essex has had an international reputation for innovation and excellence in photosynthetic research for more than 25 years. The project leader Professor Steve Long, from the University of Illinois, began his scientific career at Essex where he was based for more than 20 years.

This global project will also involve scientists at Rothamsted Research alongside the universities of Australian National University, Canberra, University of California at Berkeley, Louisiana State and Shanghai. The �1.8m sub-contract awarded to Essex will involve improving photosynthetic carbon fixation – the process where plants convert carbon into sugar using sunlight ? to overcome some of the fundamental limitations of photosynthesis.

Professor Christine Raines, who is leading the project at Essex, said: “I am extremely pleased to be involved with such a prestigious group of researchers and look forward to being part of this exciting project. This project also underlines the international reputation of Essex in the area of photosynthetic research. With more research focusing on improving this complex problem we can meet the challenge of developing crops to feed the world.”