Rubisco activase (RCA) catalyzes the release of inhibitory sugar phosphates from ribulose-1,6-biphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (Rubisco) and can play an important role in biochemical limitations of photosynthesis under dynamic light and elevated temperatures. There is interest in increasing RCA activity to improve crop productivity, but a lack of understanding about the regulation of photosynthesis complicates engineering strategies. In this review, we discuss work relevant to improving RCA with a focus on advances in understanding the structural cause of RCA instability under heat stress and the regulatory interactions between RCA and components of photosynthesis. This reveals substantial variation in RCA thermostability that can be influenced by single amino acid substitutions, and that engineered variants can perform better in vitro and in vivo under heat stress. In addition, there are indications RCA activity is controlled by transcriptional, post-transcriptional, post-translational, and spatial regulation, which may be important for balancing between carbon fixation and light capture. Finally, we provide an overview of findings from recent field experiments and consider the requirements for commercial validation as part of efforts to increase crop yields in the face of global climate change.

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