Guest essay by Eric Worrall
This is the only climate technology which really frightens me.
This scientist thinks she has the key to curb climate change: super plants
Adam Popescu in La Jolla, California
Tue 16 Apr 2019 20.00 AEST
Dr Joanne Chory hopes that genetic modifications to enhance plants’ natural carbon-fixing traits could play a key role – but knows that time is short, for her and the planet
She is now working to design plants capable of storing even more carbon dioxide in their roots. Her Ideal Plant project uses gene editing – via traditional horticulture and Crispr – to do so. On a large scale, this could suck enough carbon out of the atmosphere to slow down climate change.
This concept basically splices the genes of regular crops and everyday plants like beans, corn and cotton, with a new compound that makes them absorb more carbon. Their roots then transfer it to the soil to keep it there.
This approach essentially supercharges what nature already does.
“I get worked up when I talk about the project,” Chory tells me in an office at the Salk Institute, a revered bio research campus at the edge of the Pacific Ocean in southern California. Her desk is full of posies, awards, family photos and framed magazine covers from science journals. “We have to find a way to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and I think plants are the only way to do that affordably,” Chory says.
“I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders,” she says, letting out a laugh. “It is a lot of pressure.”
Developing these Ideal Plants is step one in the Harnessing Plants Initiative, which amplifies root systems and production of suberin – which is essentially cork, or the rind on your cantaloupe, the magic key to plants holding more of that carbon – before transferring these genetic traits to row and cover crops. Given the right resources, and funding, prototypes of each crop are expected to be ready in the next five years.
…Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/16/super-plants-climate-change-joanne-chory-carbon-dioxide
Why do I think this technology is so frightening?
Back in the depths of the last ice age, CO2 levels dropped so low the world almost ended.
Despite wild claims by some climate scientists, it seems extraordinarily unlikely we have broken the 2.6 million year old Quaternary Glaciation pattern of hundred thousand year ice ages interrupted by brief interglacials lasting 10-20 thousand years.
No civilisation lasts forever. No interglacial lasts forever. One day the ice will return. If the ice returns when human civilisation is at an ebb, civilisation could collapse.
But regardless of what happens to people, wild variants of “super plants” with enhanced CO2 absorbing capabilities might survive. Cover crops, already resilient to winter conditions, with genetically enhanced CO2 absorbing capabilities and unnaturally strong root systems, might cope really well with the onslaught of the next ice age.
Perhaps wild descendants of the “ideal plants” will survive well enough to keep drawing down CO2 levels, even lower than during the last glacial maximum.