Journal of Food, Agriculture and Environment

Vol 7, Issue 3&4,2009
Online ISSN: 1459-0263
Print ISSN: 1459-0255

Pioneering research on C4 photosynthesis: Implications for crop water relations and productivity in comparison to C3 cropping systems


Mabrouk A. El-Sharkawy

Recieved Date: 2009-05-20, Accepted Date: 2009-10-04


This review summarizes the history of the discoveries of the many anatomical, agronomical and physiological aspects of C4 photosynthesis (where the first chemical products of CO2 fixation in illuminated leaves are four-carbon dicarboxylic acids) and documents the scientists at the University of Arizona and the University of California, Davis, who made these early discoveries. These findings were milestones in plant science that occurred shortly after the biochemical pathway of C3 photosynthesis in green algae (where the first chemical product is a three-carbon compound) elucidated at the University of California, Berkeley, and earned a Nobel Prize in chemistry. These remarkable achievements were the result of ground-breaking pioneering research efforts carried out by many agronomists, plant physiologists and biochemists in several laboratories, particularly in the USA. Numerous reviews and books written in the past four decades on the history of C4 photosynthesis have focused on the biochemical aspects and give an unbalanced history of the multidisciplinary/multinstitutional nature of the achievements made by agronomists, who published much of their work in field study journals such as Crop Science. Most notable among the characteristics of the C4 species that differentiated them from the C3 ones are: (I) high optimum temperature and high irradiance saturation for maximum leaf photosynthetic rates; (II) apparent lack of CO2 release in a rapid stream of CO2-free air in illuminated leaves in varying temperatures and high irradiances; (III) a very low CO2 compensation point; (IV) lower mesophyll resistances to CO2 diffusion coupled with higher stomatal resistances, and, hence, higher instantaneous leaf water use efficiency; (V) the existence of the so-called “Kranz leaf anatomy” and the higher internal exposed mesophyll surface area per cell volume; and (VI) the ability to recycle respiratory CO2 by illuminated leaves. Recent research conducted at CIAT with the tropical root crop, cassava, revealed that it is endowed with a high photosynthetic capacity that is intermediate between C3 and C4 species. Yield under stressfull environment was correlated with leaf photosynthetic rate, as measured in the field, PEPC activity and with leaf photosynthetic nitrogen use efficiency.


Agriculture, anatomy, biochemistry, breeding, carbon assimilation, cassava, crops, drought, enzymes, gas exchange, photorespiration, photosynthesis, productivity, water use efficiency

Journal: Journal of Food, Agriculture and Environment
Year: 2009
Volume: 7
Issue: 3&4
Category: Agriculture
Pages: 468-484

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