Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Souped-up Plants

PostedJuly 12, 2019

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Lede: Nature’s plants take in carbon dioxide and use it to grow. But they can’t keep up with the amount of C-O-2 that we pump into the air by burning fossil fuels.

Randy Atkins: Scientists say that 18-gigatons a year of excess carbon dioxide is changing our planet’s climate. So Joanne Chory, at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, is trying to engineer crop plants to pull in more C-O-2…and use it to make their roots out of a waxy chemical called suberin.

Joanne Chory: It’s a perfect carbon storage device. It has hundreds of carbons in it and there is no oxygens around those carbons so microbes really can’t get in and decompose it.

Randy Atkins: Chory says the roots would be deep enough to store that carbon in the ground for a long time…even enriching the soil. If used in major food crops to feed a growing world population, she says this could remove significant amounts of C-O-2.

Joanne Chory: Of those eighteen gigatons, we might be able to take out anywhere between two and five.

Randy Atkins: Making it a potentially powerful tool among the technologies to mitigate climate change. With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.