Home » How Supercharged Plants Could Slow Climate Change: Joanne Chory (Transcript)

How Supercharged Plants Could Slow Climate Change: Joanne Chory (Transcript)

So that tells us we might be able to even combine within a trait and get even more suberin. This shows one result, where we have a plant here on the right that’s making more than double the amount of root than the plant on the left, and that’s just because of the way we expressed one gene that’s normally in the plant in a slightly different way than the plant usually does on its own.

All right, so that’s just one example I wanted to show you.

And now I want to tell you that, you know, we still have a lot of challenges, actually, when we get to this problem, because it takes — We have to get the farmers to actually buy the seeds, or at least the seed company to buy seeds that farmers are going to want to have.

And so when we do the experiments, we can’t actually take a loss in yield, because while we are doing these experiments, say, beginning about 10 years from now, the earth’s population will be even more than it is right now. And it’s rapidly growing still.

So by the end of the century, we have 11 billion people, we have wasted ecosystems that aren’t really going to be able to handle all the load they have to take from agriculture.

And then we also have this competition for land. And so we figure, to do this carbon sequestration experiment actually requires a fair amount of land. We can’t take it away from food, because we have to feed the people that are also going to be on the earth until we get past this big crisis.

And the climate change is actually causing loss of yield all over the earth.

So why would farmers want to buy seeds if it’s going to impact yield?

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So we’re not going to let it impact yield, we’re going to always have checks and balances that says go or no go on that experiment.

And then the second thing is, when a plant actually makes more carbon and buries it in the soil like that, almost all the soils on earth are actually depleted of carbon because of the load from agriculture, trying to feed 8 billion people, which is what lives on the earth right now. And so, that is also a problem as well.

Plants that are making more carbon, those soils become enriched in carbon. And carbon-enriched soils actually hold nitrogen and they hold sulphur and they hold phosphate — all the minerals that are required for plants to grow and have a good yield. And they also retain water in the soil as well.

So the suberin will break up into little particles and give the whole soil a new texture. And as we’ve shown that we can get more carbon in that soil, the soil will get darker. And so we will be able to measure all that, and hopefully, this is going to help us solve the problem.

So, OK. So we have the challenges of a lot of land that we need to use, we have to get farmers to buy it, and that’s going to be the hard thing for us, I think, because we’re not really salesmen, we’re people who like to Google a person rather than meet them, you know what I mean? That’s what scientists are mostly like.

But we know now that, you know, no one can really deny — the climate is changing, everyone knows that. And it’s here and it’s bad and it’s serious, and we need to do something about it.

But I feel pretty optimistic that we can do this. So I’m here today as a character witness for plants. And I want to tell you that plants are going to do it for us, all we have to do is give them a little help, and they will go and get a gold medal for humanity.

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Thank you very much.

Thank you.

I finally got it out.

Chris Anderson: Wow. Joanne, you’re so extraordinary. Just to be sure we heard this right: you believe that within the next 10 years you may be able to offer the world seed variants for the major crops, like — what? — wheat, corn, maybe rice, that can offer farmers just as much yield, sequester three times, four times, more carbon than they currently do? Even more than that?

Joanne Chory: We don’t know that number, really. But they will do more.

Chris Anderson: And at the same time, make the soil that those farmers have more fertile?

Joanne Chory: Yes, right.

Chris Anderson: So that is astonishing. And the genius of doing that and a solution that can scale where there’s already scale.

Joanne Chory: Yes, thank you for saying that.

Chris Anderson: No, no, you said it, you said it. But it almost seems too good to be true. Your Audacious Project is that we scale up the research in your lab and pave the way to start some of these pilots and make this incredible vision possible.

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