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Photosynthesis revisited: climate emergency, “no pollution and zero-emission” challenge and industrial application

The photosynthetic capacity of plants, algae and other photosynthetic organisms to assimilate atmospheric carbon dioxide positions them at the centre of the global climate change adaptation and mitigation challenge[[For instance, see Ort et al. Redesigning photosynthesis to sustainably meet global food and bioenergy demand. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA112, 8529–8536 (2015).]] [[Notwithstanding the recognized need for even stronger emission reductions. ]]. Their autotrophic lifestyle also makes them ideal platform organisms for sustainable production of biomolecules[[ O’Neill E. and Kelly, S. 2016 Engineering biosynthesis of high-value compounds in photosynthetic organisms,]], including molecules of high socio-economic value, of interest to diverse industrial sectors, by increasingly sophisticated synthetic and molecular biology approaches[[Schander et al., A synthetic pathway for the fixation of carbon dioxide in vitro, Science 18 (Nov 2016): 900-904]].

This creates new opportunities for industrial production, beyond improved yields, while helping increase CO2 assimilation capacity - contributing notably to the reduction of pollution in Europe, and making it more efficient. In particular, recent research confirm a strong correlation between plant physiological reactions during drought and heat waves, which are increasing in frequency and intensity in Europe, notably by contributing to ozone pollution[[Lin et al.Vegetation feedbacks during drought exacerbate ozone air pollution extremes in Europe. Nat. Clim. Chang.10, 444–451 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0743-y]], the so-called ‘climate penalty of plants” [[Sadiq, M. The climate penalty of plants. Nat. Clim. Chang.10, 387–388 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0765-5]] [[Air quality in Europe – 2019 report Report no. 10/2019 (European Environment Agency, 2019); https://www.eea.europa.eu//publications/air-quality-in-europe-2019]].

The topic covers innovative technologies with potential to boost the efficiency of photosynthesis, reduce the ‘climate penalty of plants’, and increase their sustainable industrial application. All photoautotrophic organisms such as plants, micro- and macro algae, cyanobacteria and purple sulphur bacteria are in the scope.

International cooperation is strongly encouraged to allow the exchange of best practices while ensuring win-win scenarios and contributing to European competitiveness.

Proposals should:

  1. Develop and apply a toolbox of technologies to optimise the photosynthesis pathways and structures of plants and algae to enable industrial manufacturing of large quantities of high-value bio-based compounds, substances or materials (excluding biofuels/bioenergy applications), while addressing the CO2 assimilation and the zero-pollution goals (especially ozone pollution) at sufficiently large scale.
  2. Identify and characterise the key aspects of the environmental and safety aspects, as well as the future scenarios of increasing environmental pressures under climate change conditions (water, gaseous inputs, land use etc.), for the selected crops, beyond the model species.
  3. Outline the necessary scale-up production processes for novel bio-based innovations in order to reach a critical mass for a given application (including the crop/species selection), to achieve economies of scale, address different market segments and applications.
  4. Consider process and product safety - including the occupational and consumer safety aspects - in value chains, in line with national or European regulationsEnsure the transparent and inclusive engagement of all actors, including industry and SMEs, the scientific community, regulatory institutions, and broader civil society, including NGOs, to ensure the necessary impact and awareness.
  5. Where relevant, proposals should seek links with and capitalise on the results of past [[ E.g. FP7 project “3to4”: Converting C3 to C4 photosynthesis for sustainable agriculture]] and ongoing [[ E.g. Horizon 2020 call BIOTEC-02-2019: Boosting the efficiency of photosynthesis (RIA), with projects CAPITALISE, GAIN4CROPS and PhotoBoost. ]] research projects, taking care to avoid overlaps.

For this topic, it is not mandatory to integrate the gender dimension (sex and gender analysis) into research and innovation.