Yield10 Bioscience applies its Technology Platforms to the challenging goal of producing step-change improvements in crop yield.
Two Major Types of Photosynthesis, C3 and C4
Plants can be categorized generally into two different groups based on their system of photosynthesis. C3 photosynthesis, the simplest type of plant photosynthetic system, exists in most agricultural crops used for human consumption, and includes canola, soybean, rice, wheat and potato. C4 photosynthesis is a more complex system. Plants using the C4 system have evolved an additional distinctive cellular structure, in which carbon dioxide is concentrated for the main photosynthesis enzyme RUBISCO through a series of metabolic and metabolite transports known as the C4 pathway. Corn and sugarcane are part of the C4 photosynthetic plant family. In general, C4 photosynthetic plants have up to five times inherently higher plant yield than plants in the C3 photosynthetic family. This difference in plant yield is a result of evolution, which has led plant scientists to consider the possibility that new genetic enhancements can be created to fundamentally improve the photosynthetic system in C3 plants. With advanced metabolic engineering methods as well as predictive models to enable gene discoveries, we are able to observe encouraging early indications of improved photosynthesis performance in plants, which has the potential to lead to novel yield traits to increase plant yield, seed yield, biomass, oil and starch content.
The Yield Gap
According to published studies, crop yields may no longer be increasing in different regions of the globe, and current rates of crop yield increase are expected to fall significantly behind the levels needed to meet the demand for global food production. The yield increases needed to meet the demands of the growing global population show that a significant “yield gap” exists for all major food and feed crops.
Yield10 is focused on addressing the yield gap for major crops by utilizing modern biotechnology strategies, including metabolic engineering (synthetic biology approaches) to “build better plants,” in which technology is deployed to make the process of photosynthesis within plants more efficient at capturing atmospheric carbon and depositing that carbon in seed or biomass, with the effect of improving the overall yield of important food crops. Enhancement of the photosynthetic capacity of major crops is fundamentally important to crop science and an essential first step to increase the seed and/or biomass yield of plants and, therefore, food production.
Technology Approach to Increase Yield
Yield10 Bioscience is devoted to the development of new crop science technologies to increase seed yield and crop yield in major crops. We concentrate on technologies that enable us to improve carbon dioxide fixation efficiency in photosynthesis and its direction to and conversion into plant matter. We have already demonstrated early and encouraging results in crops including biomass yield improvement in switchgrass and seed yield improvement in Camelina and canola. Currently, we are working on the agricultural technology required to improve crop yield per acre in significant row crops and provide new and effective solutions to enhance global food security.
In the last decade there has been a dramatic expansion of new genetic engineering and systems biology tools: genomics data; metabolic engineering; high-throughput analytical tools, including whole organism gene expression analysis and metabolomics, and powerful genome-editing technologies. Increasing crop yield is a complex two-step carbon optimization problem. Harvested seed is mostly carbon fixed from carbon dioxide in the air by photosynthesis with oxygen coming from water in the soil and smaller amounts of nitrogen and phosphate both of which are applied as fertilizer. To achieve increased yield, the rate at which crops can fix carbon has to be increased. Based on our experience optimizing carbon flow in living systems, we know that increasing seed yield will likely require multiple trait genes to increase carbon fixation by photosynthesis at the front-end and direct the increased fixed carbon to the seed.
The Smart Carbon Grid for Crops
With the“Smart Carbon Grid for Crops” metabolic engineering platform, Yield10 Bioscience is able to eliminate bottlenecks in plant carbon metabolism by harnessing microbial diversity. The goal is to improve carbon conversion efficiency in crops to increase agricultural yield.
The “Smart Carbon Grid for Crops”
Yield10 is leveraging over a decade of experience to optimize the flux of carbon in living systems to increase seed yield and crop yield. The “Smart Carbon Grid for Crops” is an advanced metabolic engineering platform that has the potential to improve net carbon fixation from photosynthesis, optimize carbon conversion and to optimize partitioning of fixed carbon to seed or biomass, leading to yield improvement.
T3 Platform and Plant Targets for Genome-editing
Yield10 uses advanced transcriptome network analysis in our “T3 Platform” to identify global regulator genes to control complex global regulatory networks and gene cascades and achieve step-change improvements in crop yields.
The “T3 Platform”
Yield10 Bioscience is increasing carbon fixation and eliminating bottlenecks in plant carbon metabolism through the microbial diversity found in nature, and has developed a metabolic engineering systems approach under the T3 platform in order to increase yield. The T3 platform has the potential to deliver a series of novel yield, stress tolerance and genome-editing targets for investigation in significant agricultural crops. With this platform, Yield10 Bioscience is implementing a series of proprietary gene systems to enhance carbon dioxide capture and fixation in C3 and C4 photosynthesis plants for yield improvement.
Our Next Generation “GRAIN” Platform
The “GRAIN” Trait Gene Discovery Platform
We are currently integrating our two technology platforms into a next generation platform (“GRAIN”) with the objective of creating a predictive tool to identify combinations of plant gene modifications (“Smart Targets") for improvement of any aspect of crop performance. We envision that GRAIN will be a powerful tool for further optimizing the seed yield and seed oil content traits we currently have in development as well as for identifying new gene targets. Plant scientists now have powerful genome-editing tools, such as the CRISPR/Cas9 system which enable multi-gene changes to be made in major crops; the challenge is knowing what combinations of genes to edit.
GRAIN is an integrated platform based on key elements of our “Smart Carbon Grid for Crops” metabolic engineering platform and our “T3” platforms. Advanced metabolic flux analysis forms the foundation of the GRAIN platform we are developing based on Yield10 scientists' unique 20-plus years of experience successfully deploying advanced metabolic flux analysis to address critical bottlenecks in carbon metabolism.
Based on elements of the GRAIN platform that we are already working on, we have identified the C4004 to C4027 series of transcription factor genes that are down-regulated in our high-photosynthesis engineered switchgrass plants as well as a number of new gene targets related to our lead C3003 yield trait. In many cases these gene targets can be modified by genome-editing, opening the potential for the traits to not be regulated by USDA-APHIS, or in some cases, genes from the microbial world can be introduced to develop regulated traits. We believe our integrated GRAIN platform can be leveraged in the near-term to secure research and development funding from industry partners.