May 4 (UPI) -- British scientists said Monday that an amino acid swap can help protect wheat crops from rising heat due to global warming.
Similar to smart thermostats that switch on and off based on heat from sun, the amino acid Rubisco activase, or Rca, turns the plant energy-producing enzyme Rubisco on or off based on sunlight, according to a study published Monday in The Plant Journal.
Switching just amino acid from the plant's Rca can help Rubisco work better to trigger photosynthesis more efficiently at hotter temperatures, Lancaster University researchers said in a press release.
Elizabete Carmo-Silva, a senior lecturer at Lancaster Environment Center, said findings in the Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency project could also help with other crops such as cowpea and soybean.
"The cool thing here is that we have shown how this one amino acid swap can make Rca active at higher temperatures without really affecting its efficiency to activate Rubisco," Carmo-Silva said, "which could help crops kickstart photosynthesis under temperature stress to churn out higher yields."
The researchers found that swapping out just one of 380 molecular building blocks allowed plants to tolerate higher levels of heat.
The hope, they say, is that the method of activating Rubisco can be perfected to help plants grow better in a wider variety of environs.
Carmo-Silva points to the range of temperatures in Africa -- an average of around 71.6 degrees, to Nigeria's average 86 degrees, and up to areas farther north on the continent that reach 100.4 degrees -- as areas it is important to help crops be more durable against rising heat.
"If we can help Rubisco activate more efficiently across the temperatures, that is really powerful and could help us close the gap between yield potential and the reality for farmers who depend on these crops for their sustenance and livelihoods," she said.