Genetically Engineering Plants to Fight Climate Change

Scientists have figured out how to genetically engineer plants to grow deeper roots, potentially improving carbon storage, drought resistance, and flood protection.

When a plant grows a deeper root system, it helps store carbon deeper underground in more stable soil. Controlling how a plant’s roots grow, though, is not as easy as it sounds.

Researchers at the Salk Institute’s Harnessing Plants Initiative have taken a organic approach, by looking for ways to optimize plants’ natural ability to capture and store carbon — and they just discovered a gene that could be a game-changer.

In a new study scientists from Salk detail their discovery that a gene called EXOCYST70A3 determines how deep the thale cress plant’s roots grow in soil.

By altering the EXOCYST70A3 gene, the researchers found they could prompt the thale cress plant’s root system to grow more deeply — and they say all plants contain the same gene or one similar to it.

The Harnessing Plants Initiative is working to ensure that plants store more carbon in the molecule suberin, which is basically cork. Suberin is found in plant roots, and seems pretty resistant to decomposition.

Growing deep roots also means that there’s less of a chance that carbon makes it back into the atmosphere.

“The idea is not to store more carbon but to store carbon in parts of the soil where the carbon is more stable.”

So, not only can plants help slow climate change, they might be able to start protecting themselves against some of the extreme weather events that climate change causes.

The researchers plan to test this new gene editing technique on other plants, soon, hoping to help more plants better capture and store carbon.

Reference- Cell Journal, Futurism, Vice website