Global warming has been causing temperature — all across the world — to rise at an alarming rate. This has left scientists scrambling to study and find more answers and solutions to curb the impacts of climate change. From a mix of innovative and promising solutions, biotechnologists have been experimenting with changing the genetic engineering of the plants. While most of such solutions remain at the nascent stage, they do give us a glimmer of hope in our fight against climate change.
In the last thirty years, the level of carbon dioxide has skyrocketed by 20 per cent — from 310 parts per million in 1990 to 415 at present! This spike in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has been a result of burning fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and crude oil for energy needs. Curbing the further release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere remain a Herculean challenge and this is what global scientific community has been targeting to achieve over the years. From silencing the gene responsible for the release of gases by trees responsible for climate change to modulating the plant metabolism to increase carbon dioxide absorption of plants — the latest biotechnological solutions can become a part of our climate action strategy.
Scientists are studying how genetically modifying some plants can make them absorb more carbon dioxide and simultaneously increase the crop yield too. Soil and vegetation respiration release 120 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, whereas, plants can take up to 123 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis. However, the CO2 emission by anthropogenic activities accounts for 10 gigatonnes. This excess of 7 gigatonnes of CO2 has been driving global warming. Researchers have been experimenting with modulation of metabolism in some plants which can absorb residual CO2 more effectively. This can enable some plants to absorb 5 times more CO2 and produce more biomass. Modified diatoms which could be cultivated in sand-pits can help reduce high emissions of CO2. This could be particularly vital for cities in Persian gulf where climate change is expected to raise their temperature to 50 or even 60 degree Celsius. Moreover, the production of increased biomass can help in feeding the growing world population.
Some trees are responsible for releasing gases which not only contribute to climate change but they also pollute the air. Scientists have now silenced expression of these genes in some of such trees which release harmful isoprene which combines with air pollutants to form aerosols and ozone. For instance, poplar trees which are a great source of biofuels and other products like paper and plywood release isoprene in periods of stress such as high temperature and drought. Isoprene not only reacts further with other substances in the atmosphere to create ozone and aerosols, but it can also increase the lifetime of other greenhouse gases such as methane, which has even more heat-trapping capacity than that of CO2. With a tweak in the genetic code, scientists can now suppress the release of isoprene without having any impact on biofuel or biomass production. To implement these biotechnological solutions at a larger scale, we would need more funding and investment.