J Integr Plant Biol. ›› 2018, Vol. 60 ›› Issue (4): 323-340.DOI: 10.1111/jipb.12634

• Photosynthesis and Crop Physiology • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Overexpression of microRNA408 enhances photosynthesis, growth, and seed yield in diverse plants

Jiawei Pan1, Dahui Huang2, Zhonglong Guo1, Zheng Kuang1, He Zhang1, Xinyu Xie1, Zengfeng Ma2, Shaopei Gao3, Manuel T. Lerdau4, Chengcai Chu3 and Lei Li1*   

  1. 1State Key Laboratory of Protein and Plant Gene Research, Peking-Tsinghua Center for Life Sciences, School of Life Sciences and School of Advanced Agricultural Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
    2Rice Research Institute, Guangxi Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Nanning 530007, China
    3State Key Laboratory of Plant Genomics and National Center for Plant Gene Research (Beijing), Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
    4Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22903, USA
  • Received:2017-10-14 Accepted:2018-01-10 Published:2018-04-20
  • About author:*Correspondence: Email: Lei Li (lei.li@pku.edu.cn)


The ability of a plant to produce grain, fruit, or forage depends ultimately on photosynthesis. There have been few attempts, however, to study microRNAs, which are a class of endogenous small RNAs post‐transcriptionally programming gene expression, in relation to photosynthetic traits. We focused on miR408, one of the most conserved plant miRNAs, and overexpressed it in parallel in Arabidopsis, tobacco, and rice. The transgenic plants all exhibited increased copper content in the chloroplast, elevated abundance of plastocyanin, and an induction of photosynthetic genes. By means of gas exchange and optical spectroscopy analyses, we showed that higher expression of miR408 leads to enhanced photosynthesis through improving efficiency of irradiation utilization and the capacity for carbon dioxide fixation. Consequently, miR408 hyper‐accumulating plants exhibited higher rate of vegetative growth. An enlargement of seed size was also observed in all three species overproducing miR408. Moreover, we conducted a 2‐year‐two‐location field trial and observed miR408 overexpression in rice significantly increased yield, which was primarily attributed to an elevation in grain weight. Taken together, these results demonstrate that miR408 is a positive regulator of photosynthesis and that its genetic engineering is a promising route for enhancing photosynthetic performance and yield in diverse plants.

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