University of Hong Kong scientists have found a new way to boost plant growth and the number of seeds in crops, using a gene found in most known plants.
The team behind the three-year study said the find may help curb food shortages by increasing global food production, and could even fight climate change by growing biofuels crops more quickly.
Experiments on crops, such as potatoes, by the university's partner in Germany found the number of potatoes grown increased by 43 to 60 per cent.
However, mainland tests on soybeans had mixed results.
The same tests sped up the growth of camelia sativa plants - a crop used for fuel - which could be useful in the fight against climate change.
Studies have shown jet fuel made with the plant reduces aircraft's carbon emissions by 80 per cent.
However, HKU's Dr Wallace Lim Boon-leong said environmental campaigners may be concerned about the news, as the technique involves genetically modifying food.
Nevertheless, he hopes the research will be commercially useful.
But Greenpeace's Gloria Chang Wan-ki said her group was unsure about any GM technology as it means less natural variety and possible negative effects on species.
According to the United Nations, more than 800 million people around the world go hungry. Last Friday was World Food Day.