Plants Could Be Supercharged to Absorb More Carbon Dioxide

CC BY-NC 2.0. dotun55

Nature has a great way of balancing itself out, but when us humans get involved, we tend to throw things out of whack. Forests and oceans are natural carbon sinks that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but since we've been pumping too much into the air, those sinks can't keep up.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, led by biologist Tobias Erb, have figured out a way to supercharge plants to make them better at absorbing CO2, which could be a key defense against climate change.

Erb and his team figured out a way to make plants more efficient at absorbing carbon, so that they consumed more carbon in a shorter amount of time.

"If you think about plants, they're efficient CO2-fixing filters, but they are not fast," Erb said. "I think there is a chance to improve existing biology with synthetic biology."

Erb's team identified 17 enzymes from nine different organisms, re-engineering three of them, that had an amped up carbon consumption. When those enzymes worked together as a team, they surpassed not only plants' natural enzymes when it can to carbon consumption, but also themselves individually.

Existing enzymes in plants consume about 5 to 10 molecules of CO2 per second. The team of enzymes that Erb used consumed 80 molecules per second.

So far, these enzymes have only been tested in test tubes in the lab, but the next step is real world testing where the enzymes would be introduced into plants to see if the same result occurs. If those tests show that plants really can be supercharged, we could have a new tool in the fight against climate change where not only do we protect the amazing carbon-absorbing forests we have, but we also add these super plants or an artificial leaf technology using the enzymes into the mix.

You can watch a video of Erb explaining the enzymes below.