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San Diego Scientists Hope Plants Can Store A Lot More Carbon

The Salk Institute is shown in this undated photo.
Milan Kovacevic
The Salk Institute is shown in this undated photo.

Researchers at San Diego's Salk Institute are looking at a widely grown grain as a possible remedy for the planet’s warming climate.

Salk researchers are looking at a number of plants that could absorb carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the ground. Carbon is a by-product of fossil fuel consumption. More carbon in the air accelerates the warming of the planet’s climate.

San Diego Scientists Hope Plants Can Store A Lot More Carbon
Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.

Agricultural plants such as the grain sorghum could help if the plant’s genetic makeup was adjusted.

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There are two goals.

“Increase the ability of plants like sorghum and capture carbon in the soil,” Wolfgang Busch said. “Also, at the same time, make sorghum better at growing in warmer and dryer environments.”

Busch hopes to tweak the grain to grow deeper roots that can absorb and hold more carbon.

Those deeper roots also make the food grow more drought resistant.

The key centers on the grain’s ability to draw in carbon and using that carbon to grow.

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“Part of this carbon gets transferred to the root, to build roots that can absorb water and nutrients,” Busch said. “And we want to channel more carbon into the roots. Make the roots deeper. And change the biochemistry of the roots in a way that the carbon that is in the roots will stay longer in the soil.”

San Diego-based Sempra is funding the five-year $2 million study. Sempra is an energy company with extensive natural gas assets.