How Nature’s Tiniest Soda Could Help Feed the World: The Story of the Algal Pyrenoid, Eric Franklin, G4 (3965535)
Plants are responsible for almost everything around us. Not just as crops for us or livestock to eat, but also for the wood that makes up our houses and furniture, the cotton that we wear as clothes, and our fuels and plastics all were once molecules of gaseous CO2 that were absorbed by a plant and made into something useful. As the global population grows, however, demand for these useful plants, most especially food, is projected to outpace supply within just a few decades, leading many researchers to look for ways to increase crop yields. Currently the biggest impediment to greater crop growth is the pace at which plants can absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. Our lab studies a tiny subcellular structure that a single-celled photosynthetic algae uses to solve that problem. This structure is the pyrenoid, or what we like to call Nature’s tiniest soda, and we study how it works and what proteins are needed to build it in an effort to engineer crops that can build their own pyrenoids and grow taller while using less water and fertilizer.