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Scientists Tweak Photosynthesis in Pursuit of a Better Biofuel

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By altering how plants turn sunlight into chemical energy, scientists hope to produce biofuels that make economic sense.

For years researchers have been trying to figure out the best ways of making plants produce biofuels. But there is a funda­mental problem: photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into stored chemical energy, is highly inefficient. Plants turn only 1 to 3 percent of sunlight into carbohydrates. That is one reason why so much land has to be devoted to growing corn for ethanol, among other bad biofuel ideas. And yet plants also have many advantages: they absorb carbon dioxide at low concen­trations directly from the atmosphere, and each plant cell can repair itself when damaged.

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