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Early land plants didn’t have leaves. At a certain point, they evolved. In fact, the anatomy found in C4 leaves evolved 60 times, and leaves themselves evolved at least twice but probably no more than 6 times, essentially independently from one another. Now, this is a complex genetic change we’re talking about. How did this happen? That’s what Jane Langdale is trying to figure out.

The whole of Jane Langdale’s research is about shoot development in plants. When a shoot develops, it can either turn into more stems, or into a leaf. The leaves then, more or less efficiently, convert sunlight into usable energy. The interesting thing is this: a small minority of plants have a specialized anatomy that allows them to convert sunlight more efficiently. The goal is to engineer that anatomy into crops like rice or wheat. “And if we could do that, then it’s predicted that we could increase yield by about 50%.”

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