Greenhouse gases have been one main reason for threatening and deteriorating the environment. The situation worsens with every second and harms the biodiversity-human very well being an essential part. Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gas members, though necessary for the functioning of living beings but at the same time harms the environment in every aspect.
The amount of carbon dioxide is increasing at a fast pace. In a healthy environment, we need to eliminate 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. This number might go up to 20 billion metric tons per year by the next century.
Thereby, to solve the purpose, a startup called ‘Living Carbon’ has a new approach. We all know that trees are one primary means of survival for the entire human life, and they also absorb the unnecessary carbon dioxide present in the environment. But the current tree population is not enough to take down the levels of carbon dioxide.
Hence, Living Carbon is asking a bold question, “What if trees were better?” Trees can be made better by the concept of genetic engineering. Living Carbon is also looking forward to genetic engineering to make Super Trees capable of absorbing carbon dioxide more than an original tree could.
Living Carbon: Need of the Hour
Living Carbon is part of the Y Combinator incubator program, which manages to genetically engineer new trees so-called ‘Gene Hacked Trees’ or ‘Super Trees’ that can suck more carbon out of the atmosphere and safely sequester it away – a move to make reforestation attempts far more effective.
Companies are working on different technologies like farming seaweed, regenerative agriculture, spreading crushed rock on the ground, and direct air capture machines to pull CO2. All are leading to the growth of negative emission technology. Therefore, the ability of trees to be a natural capture machine makes Living Carbon the need of the hour.
Patrick Mellor, co-founder, and chief technology officer at Living Carbon, told Fast Company that, “Tree plantation alone is very helpful. But anything by which we can improve the total drawdown of carbon dioxide from photosynthesis, and also improve retention of that carbon, is a great way to increase the total drawdown potential of trees.”
The technique is also beneficial to protect the land and not harm any agriculture practice. It is better to plant 500 billion trees than 1 trillion, and we will have more acreage for other purposes.
Living Carbon Plan to Gene Hacked Trees
Living Carbon is planning to share the details about the Gene Hacked Trees and the technology behind it later this year, as per Fast Company. But the glimpse of how things will go can be understood by the trials done yet.
Scientists have been working for years to check whether photosynthesis can be tweaked. The process is difficult, as it consumes dollars and decades to get much better than harming anything. But most of the experiments have failed because changing nature’s course is complicated.
Donald Ort’s team, a scientist at the University of Illinois, focuses on tobacco plants, and the experiment tells that tweaking an enzyme in the plant could make it grow 40% bigger than ordinary tobacco plants. This type of photosynthesis hack can meet the increased demand for food as the global population grows. The faster growth of a tree will help it take up more CO2.
Living Carbon is also looking for a second innovation for the trees that slow down the decomposition rate. Gaining acceptance for these modified plants would be a task as the U.S. Department of Agriculture won’t designate the trees as GMOs, as modified plants are plant pests for them. On the other hand, the Forest Stewardship Council, certifying forests as responsibly managed does not allow any genetically modified trees in the forests to classify differently.
Genetic engineering could also help trees survive the changing climatic conditions like heat tolerance, drought tolerance. Essentially, these ‘Gene Hacked Trees’ should be put under testing and the U.S. government to start funding this research and not just Silicon Valley.