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Genetically-engineered trees can capture more carbon

Genetically-engineered trees can capture more carbon

Could hacking nature lead to a solution to climate change? Living Carbon, a public benefit company, enhances natural solutions in plants to improve carbon capture. They demonstrated that photosynthesis-enhanced trees can capture more carbon to keep it out of the atmosphere. These trees have a faster growth rate and accumulate 53% more biomass. It means they do more of what trees do best: sequester carbon to help prevent extra greenhouse gas emissions from circulating in the atmosphere.

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Plants in individual containers under a neon pink light

Living Carbon demonstrates for the first time that trees have the potential to capture more carbon in a shorter period of time. The goal of Living Carbon’s photosynthesis-enhancement research is to allow for commonly planted trees to photosynthesize with the same capacity as the most efficient 15% of plants. The organization hopes to underscore the potential of biotechnology to be used to combat climate change. Thereby, create responsible uses for technology in a changing climate.

Related: Digging deeper for climate solutions: deep-root GMOs could feed world and store carbon

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<p>The research on photosynthesis-enhanced <a href=trees is built on decades of research from the scientific community. The data was collected over the last two years on the multiple propagation cycles of enhanced hybrid poplar seedlings.

Four people standing in white lab coats

Living Carbon’s research analysis focused on over 3,000 acres of carbon projects with private landowners across Southeast U.S. The idea: to create profitable and socially-responsible carbon sequestering solutions that can be deployed on a large scale to help the planet balance greenhouse gas emissions.

Four plants growing from tallest to smallest, left to right

The reason for enhancing the trees to sequester more carbon is that the window for reducing the severity of climate change already in progress is shortening. Cofounders Maddie Hall and Patrick Mellor, along with Chief Science Officer Yumin Tao, have made it their mission to accelerate the response to climate change. They want to meet the urgency of the situation using genetic engineering.

A hand with a white sleeve holding a container with a plant in it

“We have surpassed the point where reducing emissions alone will be enough to rebalance our ecosystems and stabilize our planet,” said Cofounder and CEO Maddie Hall. “Now is the time for large-scale carbon removal. Our goal is to draw down 2% of global emissions by 2050 using approximately 13 million acres of land.”

This research project is the first step in demonstrating how ecology enhanced through the responsible use of biotechnology can be a scalable and viable solution to climate change.

Individual little plants shoots in a petri dish

Can we capture carbon at the same scale we release it? Can bioengineering create solutions to rebalance the planet? Living Carbon thinks there is something we can do.

An up-close magnified imaging of a plant

Some types of plants have evolved a type of photosynthesis efficiency increase. Known as C4 photosynthesis, the plant relies on anatomical changes that are only possible in a certain group of plants. Living Carbon’s method copies those carbon capture results without requiring the necessity for elaborate anatomical changes. They do this by enhancing natural processes in a different way instead. To grow faster, Living Carbon’s trees recycle a toxic byproduct of photosynthesis with less energy, capturing more CO2 over time.

A magnified imaging of a plant with an orange bulb

The company is also developing a bio-enhanced tree that can accumulate higher levels of metals in their roots. It will have slowing decay to increase the duration of carbon storage. This also produces more durable wood products and cleans soils made toxic by industrial activity

Furthermore, Living Carbon is working with underperforming timberland and abandoned farms and mines to restore land that is too toxic and damaged for other plants to thrive. They work with Oregon State University to plant trees and provide molecular and physiological analysis. It is an ongoing research project into this biotech for restoring land health while also storing more carbon.

+ Living Carbon

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