RSB Director's Seminar Series: Building C4 rice: the birth and growth of a Gates Foundation Apollo Project

Feeding a burgeoning global population in the face of climate change and decreasing arable land area is indeed a grand challenge. A step change in genetics and agronomy will be required to even get close to meeting world demand for nutritious food. Improving food production through superior genetics and yield in our cereal crops has long been a priority and more recently, improving photosynthesis through molecular genetics and synthetic biology has become a major target. This seminar tells the story of one of the longest running and most ambitious crop engineering “Moon Shot” programs ever attempted: The C4 Rice Project. This project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2008 and now in the fourth phase of its life, aims to increase rice yields by 50% by installing the C4 photosynthetic pathway into the world number one cereal crop which uses C3 photosynthesis. The story begins with the Australian discovery of a whole new photosynthetic pathway in 1966, and describes how 40 years later, 16 labs in 11 countries got together to assemble the genetic parts to turbocharge photosynthesis, using Synbio principles before they were even labelled as such. Recent progress, challenges, the outlook and likelihood of success will be presented and discussed.