Improving crop yield and resilience through optimization of photosynthesis: Panacea or pipe dream?

José L. Araus, Ruth Sanchez-Bragado, Rubén Vicente

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Increasing the speed of breeding to enhance crop productivity and adaptation to abiotic stresses is urgently needed. The perception that a second Green Revolution should be implemented is widely established within the scientific community and among stakeholders. In recent decades, different alternatives have been proposed for increasing crop yield through manipulation of leaf photosynthetic efficiency. However, none of these has delivered practical or relevant outputs. Indeed, the actual increases in photosynthetic rates are not expected to translate into yield increases beyond 10-15%. Furthermore, instantaneous rates of leaf photosynthesis are not necessarily the reference target for research. Yield is the result of canopy photosynthesis, understood as the contribution of laminar and non-laminar organs over time, within which concepts such as canopy architecture, stay-green, or non-laminar photosynthesis need to be taken into account. Moreover, retrospective studies show that photosynthetic improvements have been more common at the canopy level. Nevertheless, it is crucial to place canopy photosynthesis in the context of whole-plant functioning, which includes sink-source balance and transport of photoassimilates, and the availability and uptake of nutrients, such as nitrogen in particular. Overcoming this challenge will only be feasible if a multiscale crop focus combined with a multidisciplinary scientific approach is adopted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3936-3955
Number of pages20
JournalJournal Of Experimental Botany
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2021


  • Cmetabolism
  • Canopy photosynthesis
  • genetic advance
  • leaf photosynthesis
  • mesophyll conductance
  • non-laminar photosynthesis
  • Rubisco
  • stomatal conductance
  • yield


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