Nocturnal photosynthesis could hold biofuels key

A multi-million pound project to explore biofuel potential in plants growing in harsh environments has been announced.

Newcastle University is taking part in the five-year, £8.8 million ($14.2 million) project, funded by the US Department of Energy, to look into the genetic mechanisms of nocturnal photosynthesis, a process displayed by some desert plants.

By taking in carbon dioxide at night certain plants, like the agave and prickly pear, build up a store of carbon which is used to power photosynthesis during the day.

‘The long-term goal of the proposed research is to enhance plant adaptability to hotter, drier climates,’ says molecular plant psychologist Anne  Borland. ‘Species such as agave and pineapple can grow and thrive with about 20 to 40cm of precipitation a year, far less than the 50 to 100cm per year required for current biofuel feedstocks.’

Other principle players involved in this project include the US-based University of Nevada  and Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Liverpool, UK.

The concept of nocturnal photosynthesis was first discovered at Newcastle University in the 1950s.

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