To that end, Sempra Energy awarded a $2 million grant over five years in support of the institute’s Harnessing Plants Initiative, which is focused on optimizing a plant’s natural ability to capture and store carbon. Researchers at the institute hope to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change by drawing down significant amounts of carbon in the atmosphere, while providing more food, fuel, and fiber for a growing global population. To that end, Salk scientists will work to develop a drought-tolerant grass (sorghum) variety designed to sequester carbon in the soil and enhance grain production, forage for grazing, and bio-energy feed stocks.
Plants engineered to store more carbon in the soil for longer periods of time could result in a potentially enormous reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). HPI estimates that if 70 percent of the six crops (including sorghum) it is targeting worldwide are converted into carbon-sequestration-enhanced varieties, between 1.5 gigatons and 6 gigatons of CO2 could be sequestered annually, the equivalent of as much as one-third of the human-caused CO2 emissions that accumulate in the atmosphere each year.
“There is incredible urgency to address our changing climate,” said Salk Institute professor and HPI co-director Wolfgang Busch. “As the world’s population increases to ten billion or more, global warming is going to put incredible pressure on our ability to meet humanity’s needs for food, fuel, and fiber. Sempra’s investment in research to develop solutions that remove excess carbon from the atmosphere is an investment in our shared future.”