In New York state, a team from Cornell University and the University of Illinois announced that crops can cheaply manufacture proteins inside their cellular power plants called chloroplasts—allowing the crops to be grown widely in fields rather than restrictive greenhouses—with no cost to yield.
In this study, the team engineered tobacco to produce cellulase proteins in the crop’s chloroplasts, where plants turn sunlight and carbon dioxide into energy through the process called photosynthesis. Each leaf cell contains about one hundred chloroplasts that contain thousands of copies of chloroplast DNA—which is separate from nuclear DNA—that can produce an enormous amount of protein.
To find out, the team grew tobacco engineered to produce cellulase in real-world, agronomic conditions over two years at Illinois’ Energy Farm. While they detected a slight effect on photosynthetic capacity in one year, there were no detectable differences in yield in either year.