Climate change is exacerbated by at least two human actions: unabated carbon dioxide emissions and continued destruction of the Amazon forest. Spreading drought and threating food shortages are some of the devastating results.
Now, a veteran plant scientist has come up with an innovative solution: a drought-resistant plant that sucks excess carbon dioxide emissions out of the air, store it in the ground and could feed the world.
And people with deep pockets have noticed.
On December 3, Salk Institute scientist Joanne Chory, one of the world’s preeminent plant biologists, was awarded $A3.94 million by a group of Silicon Valley CEOs at the 2018 Breakthrough Prizes, reports Business Insider.
She received the award for her pioneering work deciphering how plants optimize their growth, development and cellular structure to transform sunlight into chemical energy.
The prestigious award, founded in 2012 by Silicon Valley luminaries Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, and Yuri and Julia Milner, honors top achievements in life sciences, physics and mathematics.
It has taken a long time to get to this point.
According to a Salt Institute press release, Chory has spent more than 25 years figuring out how plants manage to change their form to adapt to changing conditions. She pioneered the use of molecular genetics to study how plants respond to their environments and made major discoveries about how plants sense light and make growth hormones.
Praise from a Nobel laureate
“Joanne has had a major influence on the field of plant biology. The breadth of her contributions to our knowledge of the genetics and molecular pathways that govern plant life cannot be overstated—these fundamentally influence all our lives,” says Elizabeth Blackburn, Nobel laureate and president of the Salk Institute in a press release.
“This Breakthrough Prize is much deserved and reinforces what many in the science community already know—Joanne is one of the great innovators of science in this century,” she added.
Founding a special initiative
The pioneering biologist has teamed up with other plant biologists at the Salk Institute to launch the Harnessing Plants Initiative to develop so-called “ideal plants” to help tackle the critical and interlinked challenges of human emissions of carbon dioxide, declining agricultural yields and collapsing ecosystems.
At the same time, these ideal plants will help meet the increasing demands of a rapidly growing human population for plant products, states the press release.
As part of the initiative, the Salk Institute is building a state-of-the-art climate simulation facility that will allow Chory and her colleagues to mimic climate conditions of almost anywhere on Earth. This facility will allow the team to further uncover the genetic traits that plants use to survive in stressful environments so they can use that information to develop crops that can survive in more extreme conditions.
What are the scientists hoping to achieve?
They want to develop plants that are able to capture large amounts of carbon in their roots and store the carbon in the ground for long periods of time.
They will also focus on seagrasses which are also a major storehouse for the planet’s carbon.
“Maintaining existing seagrass ecosystems and restoring others offers a clear-cut solution to addressing climate change,” states the press release.
“Humanity is at a crossroads,” says Chory. “In the coming decades, as the human population increases from 7 billion to 10 billion or more, we are going to put incredible pressure on the planet’s ability to support us. Global warming is going to make providing for this population very difficult, if not impossible, and we desperately need ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Plants can be a critical part of the solution.”
How long will it take before we have the ideal plant?
Chory estimates that is will take roughly ten years.
And what size landmass covered with these plants would make a difference to global warming?
Chory estimates it would require 5% of the world’s cropland, around the size of Egypt. She estimates the crop could capture 50% of current levels of global CO2 emissions, Chory told Business Insider.
So, boys and girls, help is on the way — don’t spend too much mental energy on worrying about global warming. We’ll beat it. In ten years. Hopefully.