Acclimation of C4 metabolism to low light in mature maize leaves could limit energetic losses during progressive shading in a crop canopy

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Abstract

C4 plants have a biochemical carbon-concentrating mechanism that increases CO2 concentration around Rubisco in the bundle sheath. Under low light, the activity of the carbon-concentrating mechanism generally decreases, associated with an increase in leakiness (Ф), the ratio of CO2 retrodiffusing from the bundle sheath relative to C4 carboxylation. This increase inФhad been theoretically associated with a decrease in biochemical operating efficiency (expressed as ATP cost of gross assimilation, ATP/GA) under low light and, because a proportion of canopy photosynthesis is carried out by shaded leaves, potential productivity losses at field scale. Maize plants were grown under light regimes representing the cycle that leaves undergo in the canopy, whereby younger leaves initially developed under high light and were then re-acclimated to low light (600 to 100 μE˙m−2˙s−1 photosynthetically active radiation) for 3 weeks. Following re-acclimation, leaves reduced rates of light-respiration and reached a status of lowerФ, effectively optimizing the limited ATP resources available under low photosynthetically active radiation. Direct estimates of respiration in the light, and ATP production rate, allowed an empirical estimate of ATP production rate relative to gross assimilation to be derived. These values were compared to modelled ATP/GAwhich was predicted using leakiness as the sole proxy for ATP/GA, and, using a novel comprehensive biochemical model, showing that irrespective of whether leaves are acclimated to very low or high light intensity, the biochemical efficiency of the C4 cycle does not decrease at low photosynthetically active radiation.

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