Essay by Eric Worrall
According to the Innovative Genomics Institute, Genetically modifying Rice to make it more vigorous with deeper roots, could trap more CO2.
How CRISPR rice could help tackle climate change
Gene-edited rice might be better at trapping carbon dioxide
Can gene-editing technology CRISPR create new crops that help fight climate change as they grow? That’s what a group of researchers hopes to do with $11 million in funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The funding will go toward efforts to enhance plants — starting with rice — and soil so that they’re better at trapping carbon dioxide. The effort, which was announced last week, is being led by the Innovative Genomics Institute, which was founded by Nobel laureate and co-inventor of CRISPR Jennifer Doudna.
CRISPR can be used to make precise changes in a plant’s genome to produce desired traits. There are three targets for gene editing in IGI’s carbon removal mission. It starts with trying to make photosynthesis more efficient in plants so that they’re even better at capturing as much CO2 as possible. Second, IGI is interested in developing crops with longer roots. Plants transfer carbon into the soil through their roots (as well as from the rest of their bodies when they die). Longer roots can deposit the carbon deeper into the soil so that it isn’t so easily released into the atmosphere again. A similar effort to influence plants’ genes and develop crops with more robust roots is underway at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which received $30 million from the Bezos Earth Fund in 2020.
That brings us to the third arm of IGI’s research: boosting the soil’s capacity to store, rather than release, greenhouse gasses. Soil doesn’t typically hold onto carbon for very long. It escapes back into the atmosphere through soil microbes’ respiration as they break down plant matter. And techniques used in modern agriculture, like tilling, accelerate this process and allow soil to lose more of its carbon. One potential outcome of IGI’s CRISPR research, according to Ringeisen, is a product that could be added to the dirt to nurture a soil microbiome that holds onto carbon longer.
…Read more: https://www.theverge.com/2022/6/22/23178791/crispr-gene-editing-rice-soil-climate-change
Frankly the biggest issue would be convincing farmers to grow the new GM rice.
Farmers in most places are eager adopters of new GM varieties which increase yield and profit, but will deeper roots and more carbon trapping ability help boost yield? Unless the improved photosynthetic ability more than compensates for having to grow more useless tissue, like a root system which is deeper than necessary to help trap more carbon, the new CRISPR climate rice will end up staying on the shelf.