Photorespiration connects C3 and C4 photosynthesis

J Exp Bot. 2016 May;67(10):2953-62. doi: 10.1093/jxb/erw056. Epub 2016 Feb 22.


C4 plants evolved independently more than 60 times from C3 ancestors. C4 photosynthesis is a complex trait and its evolution from the ancestral C3 photosynthetic pathway involved the modification of the leaf anatomy and the leaf physiology accompanied by changes in the expression of thousands of genes. Under high temperature, high light, and the current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, the C4 pathway is more efficient than C3 photosynthesis because it increases the CO2 concentration around the major CO2 fixating enzyme Rubisco. The oxygenase reaction and, accordingly, photorespiration are largely suppressed. In the present review we describe a scenario for C4 evolution that not only includes the avoidance of photorespiration as the major driving force for C4 evolution but also highlights the relevance of changes in the expression of photorespiratory genes in inducing and establishing important phases on the path from C3 to C4.

Keywords: C4 photosynthesis; CO2 fixation; evolution; photorespiration.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism
  • Photosynthesis / physiology*
  • Plant Leaves / metabolism
  • Plant Leaves / physiology
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena
  • Plants / metabolism


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Carbon