Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have found a way to improve growth and climate resilience in plants and the way they tolerate climate-related stressors, such as salt and drought. But more importantly for the subject of tackling climate change, they are now set to enable plants to pull in more CO2 from the atmosphere.
Climate change has been the culprit for longer and more frequent droughts in different parts of the world, which inevitably leads to growing concerns about water scarcity and the general climate resilience of both natural and human systems. Roughly 3% of the earth’s water is freshwater, and most of it is frozen or not available for use, which only makes the need for drought-resilient plants all the more pressing.
Desert Plants Hold Climate Resilience Secrets
With this in mind, scientists at ORNL have been studying desert plants, such as Kalanchoë and agave, to determine what exactly enables them to flourish in dry weather conditions.
And the findings were fascinating as they showed that this type of plants can capture and hold CO2 in their cells during the night hours thanks to their crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) – a kind of photosynthesis. The captured carbon dioxide is then turned into sugars during the day.
As a result of the studies, the scientists were able to identify the genes responsible for the process. Based on this same study, it was then found that there is an enzyme that triggers two pathways at the same time. One is for the growth of the plants and CO2 capture, and the other – for the production of a stress-tolerating amino acid, known as proline.