Living Carbon, a biotech firm, is going beyond traditional tree-planting efforts and developing gene-hacked “mother trees” that have exceptional abilities to absorb a significant amount of carbon dioxide.
If the company is able to plant four million acres of these trees by 2030, they believe that it could remove over 600 megatons of CO2 from the atmosphere, which is approximately 1.6 percent of global yearly emissions. This would make a significant impact if the company’s estimates are accurate.
The startup has planted approximately 300 acres of its enhanced version of poplar trees as part of a small trial. Living Carbon has developed a method to enhance the efficiency of photosynthesis in trees by redirecting more carbon back into the tree’s biomass instead of releasing it during respiration in sunlight.
In essence, Living Carbon’s trees are meant to grow bigger and faster while keeping more carbon locked away. A study published this year found that the gene-hacked poplars stored up to 27 percent more CO2 while growing up to 53 percent in biomass.
Beyond trees, other ventures, like a major one led by the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, have looked at how crops like rice, corn and wheat could be genetically engineered for greater carbon absorption capabilities.
But first, the gene-hacked plants from Living Carbon, the Salk Project, and others will have to step out of the greenhouse before they can deal with our planet’s greenhouse gases. Some critics point out that these plants haven’t been proven on a large scale yet, and they haven’t been tested in real-world climates that constantly change.
Planting millions of trees that soak up carbon for a longer time might end up having some surprising effects on their natural homes. Also, when it comes to crops, we’re not sure how boosting their carbon storage would impact the health of the soil.
Many new technologies are being developed to reduce CO2 emissions, but some people argue that these technologies are a distraction from more proven methods, such as planting more trees, fixing our energy systems, and finding ways to reduce emissions.
Reference- Nature, National Geographic, Living Carbon website & PR, The Guardian, BBC, Interesting Engineering, MDPI Journal Forests