In a lab in Berkeley, Calif., a team of researchers led by the co-inventor of a technology allowing scientists to change the genetic code of plants and animals is hard at work creating carbon sucking plants.
Thanks to a multi-million dollar grant from the family foundation of the multi-billionaire Facebook co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg, the scientists at
the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) now can develop plants that absorb more of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.
The IGI is focused on crops used in farming, according to a report from the MIT Tech Review, because they grow much more quickly than the trees that are typically thought of as the go-to plant for carbon offsets.
"This is not easy, but we’re embracing the complexity,” Brad Ringeisen, the executive director of the IGI told MIT. “[But] plants and microbes and agriculture can actually be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.”
The institute's research is based on groundbreaking innovations in genetic engineering discovered by the renowned scientist, Jennifer Doudna.
Using her gene editing discovery, the IGI is hoping to make plants grow more quickly and develop deeper root structures so that the carbon captured by plants will remain underground.
Meanwhile, across the Bay in San Francisco, Living Carbon is optimizing existing tree species with the hopes of achieving similar goals.
Chief executive Maddie Hall and her team are already planting these trees at sites across the country. They range from the company's test site in San Francisco to an abandoned Pennsylvania mine where the trees will work to restore the land and take up toxic metals and minerals left behind. And an abandoned industrial site in Los Angeles that the company is also working to rehabilitate.
"Linving Carbon enhances the photosynthetic efficiency of trees as well as the durability of carbon stored in trees," Hall told FootPrint Coalition in an interview. " We're a climate change lab significantly focused on biotechnology."
Living Carbon has identified several species of trees that can have traits that lend themselves. In Indonesia, there's a tree with 24% nickel sap content that means these trees have green sap from the metals.
The company then breeds trees to optimize for the traits that they want. "Each one of our trees in the field or in a lab has a QR code that will monitor its history," says Hall.
That gives the company an ability to prove the additionality of its carbon sequestering trees. Which is important as the company pitches offset markets.
IGI's work also has implications for the multi-billion dollar carbon offset market. There are concerns about how much carbon can actually be sequestered through existing agricultural practices -- and the genetically modified crops that IGI proposes could be a real boost for the industry -- and the world.
“Climate change is the most serious problem facing the world today, with impacts on hunger, spread of disease, biodiversity, the global economy, and nearly every aspect of human life,” said IGI founder and Nobel Laureate Dr. Jennifer Doudna, in a statement announcing the initiative. “We’ve understood for some years that CRISPR genome editing could be used to help agriculture adapt to climate change. It’s a thrilling new step to apply the same toolkit to carbon removal and address climate change directly.”