Larger, deeper root systems can help store more carbon in the soil, because if the tree dies and parts of it are deep underground, the carbon in those pieces is less likely to return to zero. gas quickly. Roots aren’t the only viable storage option, says Ringeisen. Modified plants can also be used to produce bio-oil or biochar, which can be pumped deep underground for storage.
Optimizing plants for carbon removal will be a challenge, Daniel Voytasa genetic engineer at the University of Minnesota and a member of IGI’s scientific advisory board.
Many of the traits that researchers want to change in plants, he says, are influenced by multiple genes, which can make precise editing difficult. And while some plants, like tobacco and rice, have been studied so extensively that researchers have a broad understanding of how to regulate them, the genetics of others are less well understood.
Ringeisen says most of IGI’s initial research on photosynthesis and root systems will focus on rice plants. At the same time, the institute will also work to develop better gene-editing techniques for sorghum, a staple crop that researchers have been especially difficult to crack. The team hopes to eventually understand and potentially change the microorganisms in the soil.
“It’s not easy, but we’re capturing the complexity,” says Ringeisen. Ultimately, he hopes that when it comes to climate change, “plants, microbiology and agriculture can actually be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”