Crops: Light environment modifications could maximize productivity

The crops we grow in the field often form dense canopies with many overlapping leaves, such that young "sun leaves" at the top of the canopy are exposed to full sunlight with older "shade leaves" at the bottom. In order to maximize photosynthesis, resource-use efficiency, and yield, sun leaves typically maximize photosynthetic efficiency at high light, while shade leaves maximize efficiency at low light.

"However, in some of our most important crops, a maladaptation causes a loss of photosynthetic efficiency in leaves at the bottom of the canopy, which limits the plants' ability to photosynthesize and produce yields," said Charles Pignon, a former postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois. "In order to address this problem, it's important to know whether this is caused by leaves being older or exposed to a different light environment at the bottom of the canopy."

A recent study where researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Oxford worked with maize and the bioenergy crop Miscanthus to find that the decline in the efficiency of leaves at the bottom of the canopy was not due to their age but to their altered light environment.

This work was conducted through the Illinois Summer Fellows (ISF) program. Launched in 2018, ISF allows undergraduate students to conduct plant science research alongside highly skilled scientists at Illinois. 2018 Fellows Robert Collison and Emma Raven worked with Pignon and Stephen Long, the Stanley O. Ikenberry Chair Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at Illinois, to confirm and better understand results from previous studies for Water Efficient Sorghum Technologies, a research project that aimed to develop bioenergy crops that produce more biomass with less water.


Crop science is one of the core disciplines of agricultural science. Probe - Plant & Crop Sciences is an international Open Access journal which aims to communicate to its readers the latest technologies and methods on Plant & Crop Sciences.

The journal publishes the topics of plant protection products, Pollen behavior and fertilization impairment in plants, cropping systems, crop improvement, crop production, sustainable agriculture, environmental change, post-harvest management, etc. It accepts original research articles, review articles, case reports and short communications. We sincerely welcome submissions from everyone.

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