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Sending carbon to their roots to become soil carbon could sequester it for centuries

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers claim that global warming can be fought through the use of genetically altered trees and plants.

The leaders of the study – Christer Jansson, Stan D. Wullschleger, Udaya C. Kalluri, and Gerald A. Tuskan – believe that creating forests of genetically altered trees and plants will remove "several billion tons of carbon" annually from the atmosphere, ultimately helping in the battle against global warming.

Researchers plan to increase the efficiency of these trees and plants' natural processes that allow them to remove carbon dioxide from the air by transforming it into "long-lived" forms of carbon. They would like to do this first in vegetation, and eventually in soil. 

Genetically altering trees and plants' absorption of light isn't all these researchers are looking to do, though. In addition, they'd like to make it so that these plants send more carbon into their roots as well, which would transform some of it into soil carbon. This could stifle the carbon and keep it from the air for centuries. 

Researchers are also genetically altering plants to "better withstand" the complications of growing on marginal land in order to produce improved food crops and bioenergy. This could increase the amount of carbon plants take in from the air significantly. 

The combination of genetically altered trees and plants sending carbon to its roots to be put to rest for centuries along with improved bioenergy and food crop production could yield results that are beneficial to fighting global warming and its consequences. 

This study was published in Bioscience.

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Why the genetic engineering?
By nafhan on 10/1/2010 3:20:46 PM , Rating: 5
One would think similar levels of carbon sequestration could be achieved - without pricey and potentially harmful genetic engineering - by simply planting a bunch of normal trees, or protecting large tracts of the Amazon, etc.
That'd probably be much less likely to provide someone researching genetic tree engineering with a research grant, though...

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By icrf on 10/1/2010 3:46:18 PM , Rating: 2
I thought the difference was most plants store the carbon in their bodies, and when they die and decompose, natural or otherwise, most is released into the atmosphere again. The genetic engineering here is a way for the trees to release more carbon from their roots into the soil instead of the atmosphere. The real question is how much difference is made engineered versus natural?

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By MozeeToby on 10/1/2010 3:56:29 PM , Rating: 3
Eh, if we're talking active technological ideas (which genetically engineering and planting trees would definitely qualify as) regular trees would still give a 50 year or so buffer until we can come up with a more permanent plan. Think how much better our technology is now than it was 50 years ago, and if we can't solve it by then we can always plant more trees indefinitely. I don't really see the advantage to modifying trees just to make them hold onto the carbon a bit longer.

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By AnnihilatorX on 10/3/2010 8:02:59 AM , Rating: 2
I agree, GM is very dangerous. If you artificially improve the tree's survivability in harsh area, speeding their growth by enabling more CO2 to be captured, this potentially may cause havoc in fragile ecology. The tree would begin to dominate and normal trees would not stand a chance.

The trees may cross-breed and produce offspring with unknown effects.

Unless of course you sterile the trees, but then this would make planting them costly business.

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By dark matter on 10/3/2010 11:46:51 AM , Rating: 3
Of course they will sterile the trees. The whole point of GM crops and organisms is that you have to go to the company to purchase them again. They are not going to say hey, by one tree/plant from us and then have as many as you want.

This is why I am against GM crops. it takes the right of life away from common folk and puts into the hands of orgnaisations. If am a farmer and I grow Maize, I could use the seeds from crop to plant another crop. If I grow GM Maize, I need to go every year to buy another lot of seeds. Very, very scary shit.

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By AnnihilatorX on 10/3/2010 7:38:11 PM , Rating: 2
Well of course the farmer do that when there is a profit to be made. If the company raise the price, you can always fallback to non-GM crop, and label them as GM free in supermarket, profit again.

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By JediJeb on 10/4/2010 12:25:10 PM , Rating: 2
Well of course the farmer do that when there is a profit to be made. If the company raise the price, you can always fallback to non-GM crop, and label them as GM free in supermarket, profit again.

Unfortunately it isn't that easy. GM crops like the Roundup Ready soybeans and corn greatly reduce the cost of keeping weeds in check while they grow. If you replace that seed with regular seeds then you spend more time and money trying to keep the weeds out, which if allowed to grow will reduce your yield. Also the price difference in the GM and non-GM crops at market is very little if any, which really cuts into your profits if your yield drops. Since most farmers have to sell to a vast array of middlemen it makes little difference if you stick a GM free tag on them. What is really sad is that the produce you pay a premium for in the store that says GM-free or Organically Grown, the farmer got nearly the same price for it as they would any other type of produce and probably had to work harder to grow the same amount.

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By YashBudini on 10/4/2010 10:50:25 PM , Rating: 2
GM crops like the Roundup Ready soybeans and corn greatly reduce the cost of keeping weeds in check while they grow.

Until Roundup-resistant weeds show up. Then what?

But I suppose they won't stop until every plant on the planet is patented by some corporation.

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By icemansims on 10/1/10, Rating: 0
RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By quiksilvr on 10/1/2010 4:10:36 PM , Rating: 1
5) Use hemp for paper and stop chopping down trees. Hemp is more economical, takes less time to grow, can be grown virtually anywhere and doesn't need to be bleached.

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By icemansims on 10/1/2010 4:14:22 PM , Rating: 1
I'm not talking about just paper.

Wood in general, land use for crops/livestock, all land humans use.

By roadhog1974 on 10/3/2010 7:18:15 PM , Rating: 2
That will give you more hemp and less trees.

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By YashBudini on 10/4/2010 10:56:59 PM , Rating: 2
Hemp is more economical, takes less time to grow, can be grown virtually anywhere and doesn't need to be bleached.

It would also create indestructable clothing. If people behaved like Ralph Nader the two combined could make the clothing industry a very small player.

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By solarrocker on 10/1/2010 4:14:47 PM , Rating: 2
If we go for 4, can we make a game show out of it? (Remembers a episode of Sliders, anybody else used to watch that series?)

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By vol7ron on 10/1/2010 4:22:50 PM , Rating: 1
I remember that show, if it's the one where they used to slide into parallel dimensions w/ certain jump-points on a timer.

Sort of like a Quantum Leap idea.

By solarrocker on 10/1/2010 4:32:38 PM , Rating: 1
Correct, I can remember the one where most of the earth had vast oil deposits but they mostly were on fire.

Or the one where world population was being kept down by killing people in a contest.

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By blueboy09 on 10/1/10, Rating: 0
RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By KCjoker on 10/1/2010 7:03:49 PM , Rating: 1
I remember that show because of Kari Wuhrer...yowza.

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By mkrech on 10/1/2010 4:37:19 PM , Rating: 2
Thank you for not trying to be rude... I'll try as well.

Unfortunately, your solutions are based off assumptions that are simply not based on facts. Also, your narrow minded assumptions limit many possibilities.

Try to imagine the technology that will be available in 50-100 years. It may help to imagine you are living in the late 1800's and with the with the knowledge of that time could you predict any of what we can do now? Now it may be easier to understand that your ability to predict what will be possible yet in your lifetime is quite unlikely.

Be positive. The worst thing we could do now is to over-react to a problem that doesn't even exist.

Analogy: The plane has engine trouble. Since it is going to crash anyway we might as well just jump.

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By Da W on 10/1/2010 4:40:53 PM , Rating: 3
5) Start-up google-earth and take a look at how much free-land there is still. It's not that bad. As people get richer they make less babies. The world population will stabilize by itself, i am not worried.

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By Phoque on 10/1/10, Rating: 0
RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By JediJeb on 10/4/2010 5:47:21 PM , Rating: 2
If we were using more resources annually than the earth can give us, then we should have run out last year and had none this year.

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By Phoque on 10/7/2010 9:51:06 PM , Rating: 2
Not quite. For example, if can't grow enough trees annually, people will cut down trees in the forest.

If we extract fish at a rate greater than they can reproduce annually, fish population will drop.

See it as the earth already having some ressources in the bank account, when we take more than the interests or our deposits can cover, we deplete it.

Here is the link I got my information from ( it`s in french ):

It says that, based on US National Science Academy numbers published in 2002, we were already outspending the earth`s capacity by 20% in terms of its regenerating capacity for forests, lands used for crops and renewable energies.

RE: Why the genetic engineering?
By xthetenth on 10/3/2010 1:17:08 PM , Rating: 3
Yep, it's actually scary how fast reproductive rates have started going down. China doesn't actually need the one child policy in most cases except for the tradition where they need a male child to support them when they get older.

If you want more detail, read this, it's very interesting:

By kattanna on 10/1/2010 4:41:21 PM , Rating: 2
i see the plot for a new scifi orignal movie

in some remote eco-terrorist lab they make a sentient tree that is taught to hate mankind.

they get the world to plant them, which then turns on them sucking all the CO2 out of the air killing all grass and plants, and then all the animals starve to death.

the eco-terrorist during this time has had time to have children so when he/she realizes what the trees are doing, try to stop it, because now..suddenly.. humanity is worth saving

he/she goes out into the forest and the trees surround him and in a large burst out gas lots of CO2 killing him before he can spread the word.

movie ends as the world unites to nuke the forests.. to save themselves

credits roll

By solarrocker on 10/1/2010 4:45:25 PM , Rating: 3
Skynet goes green?

By CarbonJoe on 10/1/2010 6:54:28 PM , Rating: 3
There is unrest in the forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas

The trouble with the maples
(And they're quite convinced they're right)
They say the oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light
But the oaks can't help their feelings
If they like the way they're made
And they wonder why the maples
Can't be happy in their shade

There is trouble in the forest
And the creatures all have fled
As the maples scream 'Oppression!'
And the oaks just shake their heads

So the maples formed a union
And demanded equal rights
'The oaks are just too greedy
We will make them give us light'
Now there's no more oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe and saw

By Locrian on 10/2/2010 8:07:44 PM , Rating: 3
Slay the ones who chop and cut
Slay them in their wooden huts
Slay the ones who slay the birds
Slay the ones who speak with words
Slay the ones with tools and games
Slay the ones who's gods have names

By sleepeeg3 on 10/1/2010 8:05:42 PM , Rating: 5
I am going to take the unpopular solution and say burn all the trees. When we are all still alive, only then will the hippies realize that global warming is a crock.

Fact: ~98% of the CO2 is consumed by plankton and stored in the ocean - we technically could survive without trees. Plankton is much less huggable.

As for CO2? Temperature increases CO2 levels - not the other way around:
How else do you explain that 800 year lag that pro-global warming scientist hide from their graphs? Oops.

RE: Solution
By lolmuly on 10/2/2010 9:03:01 PM , Rating: 2
We could theoretically survive without trees, but we are destroying the ocean pretty quickly....

RE: Solution
By dark matter on 10/3/2010 11:51:21 AM , Rating: 2
If you burnt all the tree's you would be left with a very acidic ocean and no plankton.

RE: Solution
By JediJeb on 10/4/2010 5:52:18 PM , Rating: 2
But the ash from the burnt trees would leach out caustic soda when it rained on it and that would wash into the ocean and neutralize the acidity, problem solved.

Let me guess...
By jimhsu on 10/1/2010 5:08:30 PM , Rating: 2
Let me guess ... one of their primary focuses will be RuBisco (or ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase, for the non-biologists) - yup, found it. That enzyme is seriously the worst enzyme ever designed by nature, at least in terms of efficiency (a total of three (3) CO2 molecules per second) - yes I've heard the arguments, but it's still a bad enzyme. Unfortunately, it's still difficult to improve it.

That, and generally getting CO2 more efficiently into the plant. Unfortunately for humans, plants are engineered for survival and reproduction, not maximum CO2 conversion capability. Genetic engineering is at least an attempt to fix that.

RE: Let me guess...
By jimhsu on 10/1/2010 5:09:34 PM , Rating: 2
For a tech analogy, improving Rubisco would be like replacing a HDD with a SSD in a PC, as far as the "performance improvement" is concerned.

RE: Let me guess...
By Raraniel on 10/2/2010 9:12:34 PM , Rating: 2
Heh, better hope they don't increase the turnover to anything approaching catalase, or we'll quickly find the scale tipping on the other end of the spectrum.

RE: Let me guess...
By jimhsu on 10/2/2010 10:26:27 PM , Rating: 2
I don't even think that's physically possible, but if it is, we have some seriously crazy mutant plant life to contend with. May be a problem, maybe not (enough food to feed the world hundreds of times over). Most likely not because CO2 levels and sunlight will be the rate-limiting step then.

Looking ahead
By ThreatcoreNews on 10/1/2010 5:09:14 PM , Rating: 2
With a strong La Nina developing, it'll be interesting to see how the coming colder than normal temperatures will affect 'news' reports. One of two things will happen - either climate change will refer to cold temperatures, or the climate reports will suddenly go away.

RE: Looking ahead
By Camikazi on 10/1/2010 6:17:31 PM , Rating: 4
There is a reason they changed form "Global Warming" to "Climate Change", one only covers temps going up, the other can cover both directions so they can use it as "proof" no matter which way it goes.

By dobermanmacleod on 10/1/2010 5:22:43 PM , Rating: 2
"Leemans and Eickhout (2004) found that adaptive capacity decreases rapidly with an increasing rate of climate change.

Their study finds that five percent of all ecosystems cannot adapt more quickly than 0.1 C per decade over time. Forests will be among the ecosystems to experience problems first because their ability to migrate to stay within the climate zone they are adapted to is limited.

If the rate is 0.3 C per decade, 15 percent of ecosystems will not be able to adapt. If the rate should exceed 0.4 C per decade, all ecosystems will be quickly destroyed, opportunistic species will dominate, and the breakdown of biological material will lead to even greater emissions of CO2. This will in turn increase the rate of warming"

Reference: Leemans og Eickhout, 2004, Another reason for concern: regional and global impacts on ecosystems for different levels of climate change, Global Environmental Change 14, 219–228.

By the way, a 0.3 degree C. increase is predicted for the period 2004-2014 alone by Smith, Cusack et al, 2007.

By JediJeb on 10/4/2010 7:04:55 PM , Rating: 2
If the rate is 0.3 C per decade, 15 percent of ecosystems will not be able to adapt. If the rate should exceed 0.4 C per decade, all ecosystems will be quickly destroyed, opportunistic species will dominate, and the breakdown of biological material will lead to even greater emissions of CO2. This will in turn increase the rate of warming

Well we better just give up then, because according to Dr. Roy Spencer, former NASA Scientist and global warming proponent the temperatures have already risen 0.5c in the last decade or less

So if what he says is true, and the Leemans and Eickhout report is also true, then our forest will be gone in a year or two.

Funny how the global warming/climate change people's predictions never seem to coincide or come true. Looking at these two reports together it would suggest that either one or the other must be incorrect, otherwise if they are both correct then we should be rapidly losing our forest right now. If a rise of 0.4c per decade causes all ecosystems to be quickly destroyed per Leemans and Eickhout, what happens at 0.5c per decade as Spencer is showing us has already happened? According to this we might as well just quit our jobs and go home and get ready to die because very soon the entire ecosystem of the earth will be dead.

These are the very things that make me take all reports, predictions, and research on climate change with a very large grain of salt. To listen to the two extreme sides of this debate you see that we either have absolutely nothing to worry about, or the planet should be dead in a few years. If either side would be honest about the debate they would have to say that the climate is not behaving within the narrow limits man has experienced in say the past century for which we have good data, but that period has really been a sweet spot for us as far as climate is concerned and we are trying to hold a vastly dynamic system to the standard behavior we are comfortable with. It may very well be that our world will become either warmer or colder as part of a natural cycle over the next century to millennium and instead of trying to place blame or control nature, we should be looking on how best to adapt to the coming changes.

Who could make a profit from scaring people into thinking the end is coming, well think if it this way. If you developed a cure for the common cold, then convinced everyone who gets a sniffle that they have a cold you will make a fortune selling your cure. But what if everyone actually had the flu instead of a cold, well you still got rich by misleading them and they still suffered because they had to go through having the flu instead. If the global warming people can convince the world man is causing the warming, and can sell them on raising taxes to curb CO2 emissions, and force those that need to emit CO2 into purchasing Carbon Credits, or otherwise stall the economy in the name of saving the planet, then those who sell Carbon Credits or the ones receiving the taxes and the ones selling the process that emit less CO2 will reap the benefits even if it is a natural process and those things do nothing to change the outcome. All the while everyone else still suffers twice because of the natural change that wasn't prepared for and being duped into wasting time and money on things that were never needed. On the other hand if per chance it is something that can be negated by changing our way of doing things and we are convinced not to worry about it, those who would have lost money by the changes would continue to make money through the period we waited while everyone still suffers in the end after it happens.

The only way the world as a whole benefits, is to put efforts into adapting to what ever change comes along with an open minded, honest study of the phenomena to learn exactly what is happening and how best to approach it. Right now the data is very inconclusive and contradictory, and many of the variables we need to have in our models are completely unknown. Keep the politicians out and find some true unbiased scientist to study this and then we may see the truth.

Next step
By Howard on 10/1/2010 10:23:12 PM , Rating: 3
Synthesizing hydrocarbons directly from trees. It's like maple syrup but with 100% more Arab Awesome.

How long?
By bbomb on 10/1/2010 3:29:19 PM , Rating: 2
Before the trees are are cut down to be turned into wood?

Engineer away..
By solarrocker on 10/1/2010 3:55:27 PM , Rating: 2
If they could engineer it so the wood grows faster, while still being strong. Then why not? we've been doing it to all kinds of fruit for a very very long time by selective breeding (which is a form of genetic engineering). We done the same with dogs, cats, and many different animals. The only difference is that instead of choosing bit by bit the parts we want, and then wait to see if it will work, we accelerate the process with more modern engineering.

They can try to help get rid of world hunger and some warming issues (which are still on debate if true) by making engineered fruit trees. Then next, meat trees. Then the Mac-Tree. (yes went to far, but always been to far gone to begin with).

Still if they can help people, why not?

By lolmuly on 10/1/2010 6:02:28 PM , Rating: 2
What organisms can make use of soil carbon?

Is this a cat in the hat scheme where we are simply transferring it from the bath tub to the rug?

What impact could soil carbon have on other organisms?

I like it
By excelsium on 10/3/2010 4:21:30 AM , Rating: 2
Perhaps one day we could rip of old fashioned trees in city parks and replace them with enhanced ones, providing cleaner air for the inhabitants... along with enhanced plants within buildings etc. :D

By goku on 10/4/2010 3:45:45 AM , Rating: 2
What really should be done is we use plants that are very energy dense, harvest and convert their energy into an even more dense form such as oil, and then re-sequester it just like the oil we pumped out of the ground... To make things easier, just use depleted oil fields and put the now collected carbon back into those fields.

Genetically engineered trees
By mosu on 10/4/2010 6:03:01 AM , Rating: 2
I strongly believe it's a stupid idea and they should stop.The only action they could take is to use better adapted indigenous natural species for a specific ecosystem or we'll end up having something like rabbits in Australia, in a best case scenario.

By straycat74 on 10/4/2010 9:20:50 AM , Rating: 2
I was freezing and playing in snow drifts durring the 70's and early 80's.

Next I feared the nuclear annihilation because of that mean Reagan guy.

I partied a lot in the 90's, had no fear.

Global warming slow-cooker death.

Now just indiscriminate climate change.

How come they always predict the irreversible demise is always 10-15 years away?

Now I'm Convinced
By nstott on 10/4/2010 11:01:00 AM , Rating: 2
Tiffany, with her support of GMOs, is trying to destroy the planet. However, don't take my word for it. Just look at this drivel from a different flavor of environMENTAL wacko:

We're getting desperate, eh?
By derricker on 10/5/2010 1:33:54 AM , Rating: 2
So nice, let's fix weather by causing further damage on the ecosystem.

Why don't we gather all the Ph.Ds and bury them alive, that would make an outstanding fertilizer for thousands of acres of air cleaning forests.

Wait a second...
By hemmy on 10/5/2010 9:29:59 AM , Rating: 2
I thought crazy environmental nuts also hated genetically altered plants/seeds? Or do they only hate them when they are used as food?

Seems a bit hypocritical for them to support this.

misleading, as usual
By AssBall on 10/1/2010 3:47:46 PM , Rating: 1
They aren't fighting global warming, they are simply making plants that absorb more carbon. The relationship between carbon absorption and warming is poorly understood, if there is any. Instead they should research that some more before they start dicking with a billion year old process.

fairy taillles
By bill4 on 10/1/10, Rating: -1
"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il

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