Scientists have identified the path that led to the development of new super-crops, which use an advanced form of photosynthesis.
A new study has traced back the evolutionary paths of all the plants that use advanced photosynthesis, including maize, sugar cane and millet, to find out how they evolved the same ability independently, despite not being directly related to one another.
Using a mathematical analysis, the authors uncovered a number of tiny changes in the plants' physiology that, when combined, allow them to grow more quickly; using a third as much water as other plants; and capture around thirteen times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Together, these individual evolutionary advances make up a 'recipe' that could be used to improve key agricultural crops that only use the less efficient form.
Mathematician Dr Iain Johnston from Imperial College London and plant biologist Dr Ben Williams from the University of Cambridge came together to test whether a new mathematical model of evolution could be used to unpick the evolutionary pathways that led to the advanced photosynthesis.
"Encouragingly for the efforts to design super-efficient crops, we found that several different pathways lead to the more efficient photosynthesis- so there are plenty of different recipes biologists could follow to achieve this," Johnston said.
The study is published in the journal eLife.