SCIENTISTS at Essex University have found a way of boosting crop numbers by up to 50 per cent.

With the challenges of feeding the world’s ever-growing population, scientists are looking at ways of increasing the crop production.

This work, published in Plant Biotechnology Journal, is part of the international research project Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency.

The team found a way of increasing the H-protein in the plants’ leaves, which increases production from 27 to 47 per cent.

However, increasing this protein throughout the plant stunts growth and metabolism.

Lead author, Patricia Lopez-Calcagno, from the university's School of Biological Sciences, said the changes needed fine tuning.

She said: "Plant scientists have traditionally used promoters that express proteins at high levels throughout the plant, and there are many examples where this has worked really well.

"But for the H-protein, we showed more is not always better - when we translate this method to other crop plants, we will need to tune the changes in protein to the right levels in the right tissues.”

Next, the team plans to increase the levels of this naturally occurring protein in soybeans, black-eyed peas, and cassava, a staple for more than a billion people around the world.

To further increase yields, the team plans to combine this trait with others developed by the RIPE project.

Project leader Christine Raines, a professor of plant molecular physiology at the university, said: "Improvements obtained with the individual trait described here brings us one step closer to meeting the imminent food demands of 2050.

"Additionally, by combining this trait with other successful traits in RIPE, we can make the yield gains needed to feed this century’s growing population.

“We are committed to developing these sustainable technologies as quickly as possible and ensuring the farmers and communities who need them most have global access.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, and UK’s Department for International Development are supporting the research.