Genetically altered trees, plants could help counter global warming
Study evaluates prospects for boosting carbon sequestration from the atmosphere by modifying natural biological processes and deploying novel food and fuel crops
Forests of genetically altered trees and other plants could sequester several billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year and so help ameliorate global warming, according to estimates published in the October issue of BioScience.
The study, by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, outlines a variety of strategies for augmenting the processes that plants use to sequester carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into long-lived forms of carbon, first in vegetation and ultimately in soil.
Besides increasing the efficiency of plants’ absorption of light, researchers might be able to genetically alter plants so they send more carbon into their roots–where some may be converted into soil carbon and remain out of circulation for centuries. Other possibilities include altering plants so that they can better withstand the stresses of growing on marginal land, and so that they yield improved bioenergy and food crops. Such innovations might, in combination, boost substantially the amount of carbon that vegetation naturally extracts from air, according to the authors’ estimates.
The researchers stress that the use of genetically engineered plants for carbon sequestration is only one of many policy initiatives and technical tools that might boost the carbon sequestration already occurring in natural vegetation and crops.
The article, by Christer Jansson, Stan D. Wullschleger, Udaya C. Kalluri, and Gerald A. Tuskan, is the first in a Special Section in the October BioScience that includes several perspectives on the prospects for enhancing biological carbon sequestration. Other articles in the section analyze the substantial ecological and economic constraints that limit such efforts. One article discusses the prospects for sequestering carbon by culturing algae to produce biofuel feedstocks; one proposes a modification of the current regulatory climate for producing genetically engineered trees in the United States; and one discusses societal perceptions of the issues surrounding the use of genetically altered organisms to ameliorate warming attributed to the buildup of greenhouse gases.
By noon EST on 1 October 2010 and until early November, the full text of the article will be available for free download through the copy of this press release available at www.aibs.org/bioscience-press-releases/.
BioScience, published 11 times per year, is the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). BioScience publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles covering a wide range of biological fields, with a focus on “Organisms from Molecules to the Environment.” The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is an umbrella organization for professional scientific societies and organizations that are involved with biology. It represents some 200 member societies and organizations with a combined membership of about 250,000.
The complete list of peer-reviewed articles in the October 2010 issue of BioScience is as follows:
Phytosequestration: Carbon Biosequestration by Plants and the Prospects of Genetic Engineering by Christer Jansson, Stan D. Wullschleger, Udaya C. Kalluri, and Gerald A. Tuskan
Opportunities and Constraints for Forest Climate Mitigation by Robert B. Jackson and Justin S. Baker
Managing Soils and Ecosystems for Mitigating Anthropogenic Carbon Emissions and Advancing Global Food Security by Rattan Lal
Microalgae: The Potential for Carbon Capture by Richard Sayre
Far-reaching Deleterious Impacts of Regulations on Research and Environmental Studies of Recombinant DNA-modified Perennial Biofuel Crops in the United States by Steven H. Strauss, Drew L. Kershen, Joe H. Bouton, Thomas P. Redick, Huimin Tan, and Roger A. Sedjo
Societal Choice for Climate Change Futures: Trees, Biotechnology, and Clean Development by Emily Boyd
Time Horizons and Extinction Risk in Endangered Species Categorization Systems by Jesse D’Elia and Scott McCarthy