Cyclic electron transport around photosystem I (PS I) was discovered more than a half-century ago and two pathways have been identified in angiosperms. Although substantial progress has been made in understanding the structure of the chloroplast NADH dehydrogenase-like (NDH) complex, which mediates one route of the cyclic electron transport pathways, its physiological function is not well understood. Most studies focused on the role of the NDH-dependent PS I cyclic electron transport in alleviation of oxidative damage in strong light. In contrast, here it is shown that impairment of NDH-dependent cyclic electron flow in rice specifically causes a reduction in the electron transport rate through PS I (ETR I) at low light intensity with a concomitant reduction in CO2 assimilation rate, plant biomass and importantly, grain production. There was no effect on PS II function at low or high light intensity. We propose a significant physiological function for the chloroplast NDH at low light intensities commonly experienced during the reproductive and ripening stages of rice cultivation that have adverse effects crop yield.
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