New research in the USA has shown that modifying soyabeans to absorb more light can lead to a 25% increase in yield, The Guardian reported.

Field trials conducted by a research team led by project director Prof Stephen Long, demonstrated that genetic engineering could be used to directly target the photosynthesis process in food crops, the report said.

The improvements seen were almost unprecedented and would take decades to achieve through selective breeding.

“This result is really relevant right now. One out of 10 people on the planet are starving. This is the biggest health crisis on the planet,” Prof Long, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was quoted as saying in the 19 August report.

The work targeted genes involved in a process that plants used to shield themselves from bright sunlight, The Guardian wrote.

Plants could bleach if they absorb more energy than they could use for growth, the report said, and to avoid this, plants had a protective mechanism called non-photochemical quenching (NPQ) that got rid of excess energy through heat.

In bright sunlight, quenching kicked in almost immediately, much in the same way as a human eye contracted, but it could take up to half an hour for the process to switch off again meaning that if a cloud passed overhead, plants were needlessly diverting energy that could be used for growth, the report said.

The research team modified three genes that allowed the soyabean plant to become more responsive to lower light conditions, The Guardian wrote. The modified bean had an average improved yield of 25% across five large trials, with one trial showing a 33% boost.

For comparison, selective breeding of the beans had led to an approximately 1% yield boost each year, the report said.

“After years of trial and tribulation, it is wonderfully rewarding to see such a spectacular result for the team,” Prof Long added.